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Christian History Magazine 113

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CHRISTIAN
HISTORY

Issue 113

Seven
literary
sages

Why we still need
their wisdom today

the original lucy? Left: Lewis dedicated The Lion,
the Witch, and the Wardrobe to Lucy Barfield; like Lucy
Pevensie she had “fair hair and a lively personality.”

Did you know?
MacDonald’s players, Tolkien’s grave,
Chesterton’s pajamas, and Lewis’s hat
Cheaper by the dozen

One of the ways the MacDonald family made enough
money to spend winters in Italy for George MacDonald’s ill health was to dramatize Pilgrim’s Progress and
other literary works in their home. Since George and his
wife, Louisa, had 11 children (he jokingly referred to his
brood as “the wrong side of a dozen”), there was no need
to go outside the family for actors. Louisa adapted and
produced the plays (an 1875 copy of Pilgrim’s Progress
containing their tour schedule resides at the Wade Center at Wheaton College, Wheaton, Illinois, today), and
their eldest daughter, Lilia, a talented actress, starred.
When the MacDonalds toured the United States in
1872—George lectured on Robert Burns, Shakespeare,
and Tennyson—Greville, their oldest son, accompanied them. He often had to produce family pictures to
convince unbelieving audiences that the petite Louisa
really had given birth to so many children.

Treasure in tweeds

C. S. Lewis’s personal appearance—an old tweed
coat with baggy flannel pants and a floppy fisherman’s hat—was at odds with fan impressions.
According to biographer A. N. Wilson, Lewis once
agreed to meet with a priest to discuss the man’s
doubts about the Christian faith. Said Wilson, “The
priest, who had expected the author of The Problem of
Pain to look pale and ethereal, was astonished by the
red-faced pork butcher in shabby tweeds he actually
encountered.”



Lewis’s chauffer Clifford Morris told how Lewis lost
one hat on a picnic: “On the way to Cambridge, at the
beginning of the next term, we looked inside the field
gate where we had picnicked, and there was the hat,
under the hedge, being used as a home for field mice.
Jack retrieved it, of course, and later on continued to
wear it.” Warnie Lewis, his brother, also told a hat story:
“It is said that Jack once took a guest for an early morning walk on the Magdalen College grounds . . . after a
very wet night. Presently the guest brought his attention to a curious lump of cloth hanging on a bush. ‘That
looks like my hat,’ said Jack; then, joyfully, ‘It is my hat.’
And, clapping the sodden mass on his head, he continued his walk.”
Lewis refused to spend extra money on clothes (or
on anything else) and gave away his book royalties. In
fact, he was surprised to find that he had to pay taxes
on the royalties even after he had given them away;
to avoid this, Owen Barfield, his lawyer as well as his
friend, set up a philanthropic trust fund.

Guess who didn’t do the shopping

As a journalist G. K. Chesterton wrote over 100 books
and 4,000 newspaper articles, often dictating two
articles at once to his secretary while waving a swordstick for dramatic effect. Yet his absent-mindedness is
legendary. One day he misplaced his pajamas while
traveling. When his exasperated wife, Frances, asked,
“Why did you not buy a new pair?” he replied plaintively, “Are pajamas things that one can buy?” He also
supposedly telegraphed Frances from a lecture tour:
“Am in Market Harborough. Where ought I to be?”
His letters to Frances are also legendary. One, about
her mother’s financial objections to their marriage,
contains this paragraph: “When we set up a house, darling . . . I think you will have to do the shopping. . . . There

Christian History

Lucy Barfield dancing—With permission of the Owen Barfield Literary Estate
G. K. Chesterton with his wife Frances Blogg, from The Chestertons by Mrs Cecil Chesterton, published in 1941 (litho), English School, (20th century) / Private Collection / Ken Welsh / Bridgeman Images

partners in poetry Below: Chesterton’s wife,
Frances, authored the Christmas carol “How Far Is It To
Bethlehem?”

was a great and glorious man who said, ‘Give us the luxuries of life and we will dispense with the necessities.’
That I think would be a splendid motto to write . . . over
the porch of our hypothetical home. There will be a sofa
for you, for example, but no chairs, for I prefer the floor.
There will be a select store of chocolate-creams . . . and
the rest will be bread and water. We will each retain a
suit of evening dress for great occasions, and at other
times clothe ourselves in the skins of wild beasts (how
pretty you would look) which would fit your taste in
furs and be economical.”

lewis with hat—Used by permission of The Marion E. Wade Center, Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL
Tolkien shrine—Jennifer Woodruff Tait

Not so easy to marry off

Dorothy L. Sayers meant to end her successful series
of Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries sooner than she actually did. She wrote of introducing Peter’s love-interest,
Harriet Vane: “Let me confess that when I wrote Strong
Poison, it was with the infanticidal intention of doing
away with Peter; that is, of marrying him off and getting rid of him.” But: “I could find no form of words in
which [Harriet] could accept him without loss of selfrespect. . . . She must come to him as a free agent, if she
came at all, and must realize that she was independent
of him before she could bring her dependence.”
It took another three novels and five years of “story
time”—Have His Carcase, Gaudy Night, and Busman’s
Honeymoon—before the two were successfully wed.

Preaching a sermon to students

Despite Charles Williams’s unassuming—even ugly—
personal appearance and lack of a university education,
he was a dynamic speaker. Lewis and Tolkien arranged
for him to give over 40 public lectures in Oxford during the time he was living there. In a 1940 letter to his
brother Warnie, Lewis wrote: “On Monday [Charles
Williams] lectured nominally on [Milton’s] Comus but
really on Chastity.” Williams, unlike most modern critics, really cared about virginity, delivering what Lewis
called a “sermon” on its importance: “It was a beautiful
sight to see a whole room full of modern young men

an enduring fellowship Above left: Tolkien’s
grave has become a shrine for many admirers; people
even leave copies of his books atop the grave.
“That is my hat!” Above right: Lewis wore the same
hat even after it had become a rain-sodden nest for
field mice.

and women sitting in that absolute silence which can
NOT be faked, very puzzled, but spell-bound: perhaps
with something of the same feeling which a lecture on
unchastity might have evoked in their grandparents—
the forbidden subject broached at last. . . . That beautiful
carved room [in Oxford] had probably not witnessed
anything so important since some of the great medieval or Reformation lectures. I have at last, if only for
once, seen a university doing what it was founded to
do: teaching Wisdom.”

Letters on a grave

J. R. R. Tolkien’s works have created a community
among his admirers—a community still reflected at his
gravesite. An American literature professor found the following collection: “dead roses and lots of dead flowers, a
brilliant red rosary hanging from a rosemary bush, lavender, letters (lots), books, coins (lots from everywhere),
thank you notes, bracelets, cigarettes, runes (really),
hairbands, drawings, a wood carving with a dragon and
runes, butterflies (artificial), sunglasses, rocks, buttons,
watercolors, pages from a book, prayer cards, poems,
business cards, crosses, a medallion, ribbons, locks of
hair, a framed tribute in Spanish titled ‘Viejo professor’
[old professor], notes in perfect Elvish script, and now,
a bracelet I got in Pamplona during the festival of San
Fermin. And it’s now missing one rose bud.
“This seems like a lot, and you’d think it would be
garish and trashy. Not at all; it seems very sweet and
just about right.” C H
On our cover: books from all seven of this issue’s sages

Issue 1131

In late 2013 I was walking through the streets of
Oxford and London, seeking traces of seven sages amid
bustling modern shops, chattering businesspeople, and
shuttered churches.
Why was I there? To see a stone memorializing C. S. Lewis formally installed into Poet’s Corner
at Westminster Abbey on November 22. There great
authors and artists of Britain have historically been
remembered. (You can read more about the service on
p. 9.) He gained a memorial stone there beside British literary greats like Chaucer, Shakespeare, Byron, Dickens,
Austen, the Brontë sisters, T. S. Eliot, and W. H. Auden.
My husband, kids, and I spent the days before the service joining fellow Lewis enthusiasts
at a meeting of the Oxford C. S. Lewis
Society, a tour of the Kilns (Lewis’s
home, now a museum), and a symposium on Lewis’s works. (You can
see us below at his grave.)
On the way home, we visited Dublin, Ireland, and attended
Sunday morning worship at Trinity
College. There I met a woman who became interested
in our trip to the Lewis memorial service. She obviously knew of Lewis’s status as a British author and
had seen the movie Shadowlands. But she was puzzled
by my being there on behalf of a Christian magazine.
“Was Lewis particularly religious?” she asked.
I wondered: though Christians have valued his work
for decades, how much did Lewis and his friends and
mentors change the society around them? What legacy
did they leave to the modern secular world?

art, grace, and truth
Quite a lot, it turns out. The seven Christian writers
featured in the coming pages began influencing readers with George MacDonald’s Phantastes, a fairy tale
published in 1858. Some years later, G. K. Chesterton’s
rollicking stories and forthright newspaper columns
brought a Christian perspective to the social issues
of his day. After World War II, five authors who had

read and taken to heart both MacDonald and Chesterton—Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, Owen Barfield, Dorothy L.
Sayers, and Charles Williams—took on a generation
of secularists and modernizers with their weapon of
choice: the pen.
They expressed a vision for society in areas such as
economics, education, and the environment; a vision
for Christian literature in moving treatments of goodness and self-sacrifice; a vision for discipleship in pictures of love in community. (We’ll talk about one area
made famous by each author in this issue.) Millions
read their books and were inspired, by God’s grace,
to create art, practice goodness, and seek truth. I am
one of them: from Prince Caspian to Lord of the Rings to
Gaudy Night to The Greater Trumps to Orthodoxy, the logical arguments and poetic visions of these “seven sages”
have enriched my Christian discipleship for decades.
Perhaps yours too.
American English professor Clyde Kilby, who visited Tolkien in Oxford in 1964, was so inspired that
in 1965 he established a study center devoted to these
seven authors at Wheaton College. Today called the
Marion E. Wade Center, it has cooperated generously
with time and talent in the production of this issue,
dedicated to its 50th anniversary.
Many today willingly venture into the fantasy
worlds created by these sages. But, as they enter Narnia,
the Shire, and the worlds of Lord Peter Wimsey and
Father Brown, do they realize that they are connecting
to something larger than themselves and that they will
find deep treasures of truth awaiting them? Join us as
we look into these authors’ works to, as Lewis once put
it, steal “past watchful dragons” of fear, doubt, and disdain to tell, once again,
the old, old story that we
have loved so long. C H

Find Christian History on Facebook as ChristianHistoryMagazine or visit our website at
www.christianhistorymagazine.org.
Don’t miss our next issue on Francis Asbury and the story of early American Methodism. Dynamic worship, energetic circuit-riding preachers, and a close-up, personal
style of leadership made this movement perfectly suited to bring the word of God to the
new nation of America.

2

Jennifer Woodruff Tait
Managing editor,
Christian History

Correction: A caption on p. 24 of CH issue
111 erroneously identified the date of Billy
Graham’s famous New York City crusade as
1958, not 1957. CH regrets the error.

Christian History

Vision Video/CHI headquarters—line drawing by Robin Heller
LEWIS memorial stone—Andrew Dunsmore/Westminster Abbey
THE WOODRUFF TAITs at C. S. Lewis’s grave—Tricia Porter

Editor’s note

19

4

42

Seven literary sages Why we still need their wisdom today
4 Friends, warriors, sages

34 Transcending ourselves

Unfading stories and unshakable truths
Alister McGrath, Crystal Downing, Colin Duriez


Lewis on the best kind of learning

David C. Downing

10 The storyteller

37 A Christian revolutionary?


George MacDonald portrayed the good and holy

Kirstin Jeffrey Johnson



14 Bread of the earth and bread

42 The poetic vision of a

G. K. Chesterton and Christian economics
Ralph C. Wood

Charles Williams urged self-giving love
Brian Horne

19 Why hobbits eat local

46 The forgotten Inkling

of heaven

connected world

J. R. R. Tolkien and his friend C. S. Lewis
shared the ideal of being rooted on the land

Matthew Dickerson

Owen Barfield’s ideas about the imagination
profoundly changed his friends
Edwin Woodruff Tait

24 & 28 The seven sages

Also:

Short bios of our featured authors
Matt Forster
Westminster abbey—Jennifer Woodruff Tait
Tolkien portrait—© copyright Billett Potter, Oxford
Dove of the Holy Spirit, St. Peter’s Basilica—Lisa Johnston

Dorothy L. Sayers saw Christ as ruling all things

Suzanne Bray



30 Learning what no one meant
to teach

C. S. Lewis’s educational experiences
Michael Ward

• Did you know? (inside front cover) • Editor’s
note p. 2 • Recommendations p. 50 • Lewis’s
“master” p. 13 • Sayers’s vision p. 18 • Meet-
ing Tolkien p. 23 • Connections between the
sages p. 26 • Sayers’s surprising legacy p. 33
• Tolkien on “subcreation” p. 41 • The oddest
Inkling p. 45

Founder
Dr. A. K. Curtis

Executive Editor
Bill Curtis

Print Coordinator
Deb Landis

©2015 Christian History Institute. Cover: A sample of books from the seven
sages, courtesy of the Wade Center. Photo by Doug Johnson.

Managing Editor
Dr. Jennifer Woodruff Tait

Consulting Editor
Dr. Edwin Woodruff Tait

Senior Editor
Dr. Chris R. Armstrong

Art Director
Doug Johnson

Proofreaders
Meg Moss
Kaylena Radcliff

Advisory Editor, Issue 113
Marjorie Lamp Mead

Image Researcher
Jennifer Trafton Peterson

Editorial Coordinator
Dawn Moore

Publisher
Christian History Institute

­Christian ­History is published by Christian History Institute, P.O. Box 540,
Worcester, PA, 19490 and is indexed in Christian Periodical Index. Subscriptions are available on a donation basis by calling 1-800-468-0458 or at www.
christianhistorymagazine.org.­ Letters to the editor may be sent to Jennifer
Woodruff Tait. Permissions: Direct reprint requests to Dawn Moore.
Credits: We make every effort to obtain proper permission to reproduce
images but sometimes cannot track down a copyright holder. If you have
information about an image source that is not listed in its credit line, please
let us know.

Circulation Manager
Kaylena Radcliff
Layout
Dan Graves

Find us online at www.christianhistorymagazine.org.

Issue 1133

Friends, warriors, sages
Why are these seven sages still around? Why do people still read their books, talk about their ideas, and debate
their influence? Christian History sat down with three
experts who have written widely about these authors to
probe the ways in which they still speak to us today.
Crystal Downing is Distinguished Professor of English and
Film Studies at Messiah College (PA) and writes on the relationship between Christianity and culture. Colin Duriez is an
author and poet living in the Lake District of England. Alister
McGrath is Andreas Idreos Professor of Science and Religion
at the University of Oxford and a senior research fellow at
Harris Manchester College, president of the Oxford Centre for
Christian Apologetics, and a priest in the Church of England.

CH: Why can we treat these seven authors as a coherent
group?
Crystal Downing: They all proclaimed their

faith at a time when Christianity was dismissed

4

as superstitiously anti-intellectual—much more so
than in our own day—and defied the modernist
sensibilities that surrounded them.
For example, when T. S. Eliot became an Anglican
in 1927, famous author Virginia Woolf proclaimed,
“Tom Eliot may be declared dead to us from this day
forward. . . . There is something obscene about a living
person sitting by the fireside and believing in God.”
Similarly, in 1953 a British writer named Kathleen Nott attacked contemporary “poets and critics
who have attached themselves more or less firmly
to the cause of dogmatic theology,” asserting that
they are “engaged in the amputation and perversion of knowledge.” Nott was especially disdainful of C. S. Lewis and Dorothy Sayers, calling them
“braver and stupider than many of their orthodox
literary fellows” because of their “tub-thumping”
popularizing of the faith.
The book in which Nott’s statements appear, The
Emperor’s Clothes, was reprinted several times by popu-

Christian History

Spires of Oxford—Darrell Godliman

How seven writers gave us stories that endure, imparting truths that never fade

“city of dreaming spires” Left: Many of the seven
sages had a connection with the city of Oxford, where
their presence is still felt today even by casual visitors.
truth and consequences Right: These writers represent a breadth of Christian imagination and faithfulness
stretching over a century and a quarter.

G.K. Chesterton

Owen Barfield

J.R.R. Tolkien

lar demand. These seven authors put their intellectual
reputations at stake to take a stand for Christ.

CH: How did they know of or influence each other?

Barfield, Chesterton, Lewis 40 years old, Sayers, Williams as young man Headshots—Used by permission of The Marion E. Wade Center, Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL
Tolkien—Copyright 1972, Douglas R. Gilbert. Used by permission of The Marion E. Wade Center, Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL
MacDonald headshot—Wikipedia

Alister McGrath: There is no doubt that Lewis’s

brilliance as a writer emerged through dialogue and
debate with others—above all, J. R. R. Tolkien and
Charles Williams. They sparked his imagination, challenged him to develop both the style and content of his
writing, and encouraged him to keep going as a writer.
Every author benefits from encouragement and constructive criticism!
Although not all of the seven sages were members of the Inklings (a group of Christian writers and
thinkers centered in Oxford; see “The Inklings,” p. 25),
they shared a web of relationships and associations
that makes it meaningful and appropriate to speak of
them as a coherent group and to tease out their mutual
dependencies.

Colin Duriez: Only some of the seven authors

directly interacted, of course, as between them their
writings span about 130 years—from George MacDonald’s Phantastes published in 1858 to Owen Barfield’s
Eager Spring, written around 1988. But the influence of
their books lasted a long time and still lasts today.
MacDonald’s writings touched most of the seven,
particularly Lewis, with Barfield acknowledging
his “spiritual maturity” and Chesterton relishing
his subtlety and simplicity—evidenced in MacDonald’s declaration that God is hard to satisfy but easy
to please. G. K. Chesterton’s writings also impacted
most of the “sages” who came after him. And the five
later authors—Tolkien, Lewis, Sayers, Barfield, and
Williams—interacted frequently. (For more on the
connections between all seven sages, see our Timeline, pp. 26–27. And if you are curious about the life
stories of any of them, check out their short bios on
pp. 24–25 and 28–29.)
All seven writers were very distinct from each
other. Considering the range of time involved,
all seven are not as cohesive as are the four who
belonged to the (admittedly still diverse) Inklings:
Lewis, Tolkien, Williams, and Barfield.
Yet there is a living co-inherence, to borrow a useful and deeply charged term from Williams (see “The
poetic vision,” pp. 42–45), to the seven. It can at least
be glimpsed by seeing them within their times and

George MacDonald

Charles Williams

Dorothy L. Sayers
C.S. Lewis

recognizing some themes and
preferences they had in common.
Of the seven Lewis was the most articulate in placing himself and his friends in their historical context,
though G. K. Chesterton also certainly laid bare the foibles of his age.
In Lewis’s depiction of the loyal Narnians in his
book Prince Caspian, a disparate collection of talking animals and dwarfs remains true to the memory
of “Old Narnia” and the distant days of the reigns of
Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy in the Golden Age.
The varied Inklings group were, to Lewis, similarly
“Old Westerners” holding up the flame of truth in the
darkness of a post-Christian world.
Lewis’s “Old West” was particularly focused on
the sixteenth century—the subject of his great volume
in the Oxford History of English Literature. He also drew
nourishment and encouragement, like Tolkien, from
the pagan world of Greece, Rome, and the northern
lands. He considered them to have an unfocused prefigurement of truth, in the period before the advent
of Christ.

Crystal: Sayers was profoundly influenced by Ches-

terton, Williams, and Lewis. She credited Chesterton
with saving her faith and quoted him throughout her
letters, usually writing, “As Chesterton says somewhere. . . .”
Charles Williams, however, contributed to Sayers’s
greatest vocational joys. Williams reviewed with exuberant praise Sayers’s 10th detective novel, The Nine Tailors (1934), which led to multiple conversations between
them. After his play Thomas Cranmer of Canterbury was
performed at the 1936 Canterbury Festival, Williams
recommended that Sayers be asked to write the next
year’s play.
The result, The Zeal of Thy House (1937), transformed
Sayers’s life (see “A Christian revolutionary?,” pp.
37–40). In Zeal she first explored creativity as an expression of the imago Dei, the image of God in humanity.
That idea informed her Begin Here (1940; see p. 18) and
was elaborated more thoroughly and successfully in
The Mind of the Maker (1941), which Lewis read and
complimented.

Issue 1135

watch out for the bus 21st-c.
Oxford displays the same mix of old and
new as it did when Tolkien complained
of its traffic in the 1950s.

Williams also contributed to the next stage of
Sayers’s life: her translations and annotations of Dante.
His book The Figure of Beatrice (1943) inspired her to
learn medieval Italian to read the Divine Comedy in
Dante’s original language. Sayers wrote Williams about
her ensuing discoveries in letters so interesting that
Williams shared them with Lewis.
Hence, when Williams died in 1945, Lewis asked
Sayers for a contribution to Essays Presented to Charles
Williams (1947). The resulting essay was Sayers’s
first publication on Dante, spearheading her translations and annotations of Inferno (Hell) and Purgatorio
(Purgatory), published by Penguin in 1949 and 1955, and
read attentively by Lewis. (Sayers died before completing the third volume, Paradiso [Paradise]).
Lewis also hosted a reception for Sayers following a lecture she delivered on Dante in Oxford. This
supportive gesture, along with the eulogy he wrote
for Sayers after she died (“A Panegyric for Dorothy
L. Sayers,” published in On Stories), illustrates Lewis’s
admiration for the woman he once described as “the
first person of importance who ever wrote me a
fan-letter.”
Already famous for her Lord Peter Wimsey detective novels when she sent her initial “fan-letter” to
Lewis in 1942, Sayers recommended The Problem of
Pain to others throughout her life. The Man Born to Be
King (1943), the published edition of Sayers’s BBC radio
plays about Jesus, profoundly impacted Lewis, who
read them for his Lenten devotions every year until
he died.

6

Colin: The seven authors all had a
blend of what Lewis tried to capture
in his first prose fiction, The Pilgrim’s
Regress: the trio of reason, Romanticism,
and Christianity. They all had remarkable abilities as innovative thinkers in
their own unique ways. All turned to the
making of stories: myth, parable, allegory, mystery, fantasy, or a mix of these.
The appeal for all in this kind of writing
lay in making other worlds which, when
visited, transformed the traveler’s perception of the ordinary, everyday world.
Lewis in particular sought to undeceive his readers, challenging the
narrow and inadequate modern views
they might well hold of reality. Chesterton memorably spoke of hearing the horns of elfland.
A youthful Sayers also glimpsed the potency of
such a renewed vision when she gave a lecture in
Hull in 1916 entitled “The Way to the Other World.”
She speculated about the presence of the eternal in
the temporal: “One must remember,” she wrote, “that
though in one sense the Other World was a definite
place, yet in another the kingdom of gods was within
one, Earth and fairy-land co-exist upon the same foot
of ground. It was all a matter of the seeing eye. . . . The
dweller in this world can become aware of the existence on a totally different plane. To go from earth
to faery is like passing from this time to eternity;
it is not a journey in space, but a change of mental
outlook.”
MacDonald had a similar outlook threading
through his fiction and other writings and directly
expressed in his essays, “The Imagination: Its
Functions and its Culture” (1867) and “The Fantastic
Imagination” (1882). Changes in outlook and consciousness, captured by and caused by glimpses of
another world, were the very heartbeat of MacDonald,
Sayers, Chesterton, and Inklings Lewis, Tolkien,
Williams, and Barfield. They were concerned with
the presence of the eternal in the temporal.
Alister: Lewis was neither modern nor postmod-

ern, as we now understand those terms, but rather
saw himself as standing within a literary tradition that was nourished by the Christian faith and

Christian History

High Street—Tricia Porter

CH: What common themes united these
Christian authors? How do these these
themes still speak to us today?

still open for business Right: The
Inklings met for many years for Tuesday lunches at favorite pubs, especially
the Eagle and Child, which they jokingly
termed the “Bird and Baby.” Below: They
gathered in the “Rabbit Room,” a private
lounge at the back.

which appealed both to reason and
the imagination. Lewis’s remarkable
intertwining of reasoned argument,
skilled deployment of images, and rich
appreciation of the imaginative capacity of the human soul allowed him to
speak to both modern and postmodern,
affirming their strengths and subtly
correcting their weaknesses.
Lewis affirmed modernity’s longing for reasonableness in matters of
belief but refused to confine himself
to any “glib and shallow rationalism.”
He thought that truth was grasped and
realized through the imagination—
hence the importance of narratives and
images.
And Lewis likewise, while affirming postmodernity’s realization of the importance of stories and images,
insisted that truth really matters. He had no time for
the easygoing relativism (“my truth” and “your truth”)
that has become so characteristic of our postmodern
world in recent decades.

Eagle and Child—Colin Duriez
Rabbit Room—Philip Ivester

Crystal: These friends all anticipated the ways
postmodern people would subvert the rational arguments of secular humanism. How? They argued that
all thinkers, from the scientist to the Sunday school
teacher, understand reality according to presuppositions they must take on faith—including faith in reason itself.
Like these authors, more recent postmodern thinkers have also challenged the exaltation of reason above
all that fueled modernist denunciations of Christianity. It is no coincidence that old Marxists, and “New
Atheists” like Richard Dawkins and Christopher
Hitchens, disdain postmodernism as much as they do
Lewis and Sayers (and others of the seven sages.)
CH: Why was imaginative literature a particularly potent
way for the seven sages to express those themes?
Colin: All of the seven could be said to be, in their
own ways, Romantics. In some sense they carried forward the Romantic movement that is associated with
such English poets as Coleridge, Wordsworth, and
Keats, and German poets and writers like Goethe and
Novalis.

Lewis saw the great cultural divide between the
“Old West” and the post-Christian era (which he also
called the Age of the Machine) as falling roughly
around 1830. That date, by no coincidence, marked the
end point of the English undergraduate syllabus introduced by Tolkien and Lewis at Oxford in 1931. The
syllabus remained in effect for over 20 years; it would
be the mid-1950s before Oxford students were allowed
to study more modern authors.
It could be said that the romanticism that seems to
mark the seven authors is operating in a new and different era from the original Romantics like Coleridge
and Wordsworth. Central to romanticism, of course,
is the importance of the imagination as a reaction to
rationalism. The relationship between thought and
imagination was explored by the seven in many different but related ways, such as in the so-called Great

Issue 1137

Alister: Lewis came to appreciate the importance of
the imagination as a child and never lost sight of this
point. He saw his imagination as the means by which
he was able to recognize and then break free from the

8

books and tea . . . Top: Blackwell’s, the iconic Oxford
bookshop founded in 1879, will happily sell you a
walking tour of the Inklings’ Oxford.
. . . and conversation Above: People still gather for
fellowship and learning at the Kilns in suburban Oxford,
C. S. Lewis’s home for much of his life and now a Christian study center.

“glib and shallow rationalism” of his atheist phase.
Indeed, Lewis singles out certain writers—especially
George Herbert and Thomas Traherne—as helping
him see that imaginative writing could convey truth
(in the deepest sense of the word) more effectively and
faithfully than reasoned argumentation.
Lewis used imaginative literature as a way of
allowing people to enter and explore new worlds and
grasp their reasonableness, truthfulness, and beauty.
He helped people desire truth and offered them models of how truthful living works out in practice.
The best example is Aslan himself, whom Lewis
portrays as drawing people—such as the Pevensie
children—to himself on account of his nobility
and magnificence. A second good example is the

Christian History

Blackwell—Tricia Porter
Lewis Summer Seminars—Used by permission of the C.S. Lewis Foundation, Redlands, CA

War between Barfield and Lewis. There
Lewis eventually conceded the importance of imagination in some forms of
knowledge (see “The forgotten Inkling,”
pp. 46–49).
But unlike Barfield he decided that
reason was the organ of truth and imagination the organ of meaning. Some
scholars have argued (Verlyn Flieger is
one) that Barfield’s ideas on the imagination permanently marked Tolkien’s
imaginative output, which may in fact
account for some of the differences
between Lewis and Tolkien.
Lewis’s view that imagination is
concerned with meaning led him to
pursue fiction, and fiction that often
had deeply poetic prose. Eventually, he
turned his energies as a Christian apologist more to imaginative writing than to
the discursive, explanatory nonfiction
for which he had become famous.
Lewis embraced the view, however,
that myth uniquely combines meaning and truth in illuminating what
would otherwise be abstraction. He felt
that his two greatest efforts in retelling
myth (Perelandra and Till We Have Faces)
were the best of his imaginative works.
Many would argue that The Chronicles of
Narnia may be his greatest imaginative
achievement.
All these other authors we are talking about similarly poured themselves
into imaginative writing as well as discursive or
scholarly writing. Most may be said to have been, to
various extents, lay theologians, whose secret as popular communicators lay in their imaginative writing or
speaking. MacDonald was unique among them in having theological training.
What Lewis said of Charles Williams’s romanticism after his untimely death may perhaps apply to all
seven. He described Williams as a romantic theologian,
which “does not mean one who is romantic about theology but one who is theological about romance, one who
considers the theological implications of those experiences which are called romantic. The belief that the
most serious and ecstatic experiences either of human
love or of imaginative literature have such theological
implications and that they can be healthy and fruitful
only if the implications are diligently thought out and
severely lived, is the root principle of all his works.”

Lewis Memorial 1—Andrew Dunsmore/Westminster Abbey
Westminster Abbey—Jennifer Woodruff Tait
Lewis Memorial 2—Andrew Dunsmore/Westminster Abbey

description of the “New Narnia” toward
the end of The Last Battle, where Lewis
evokes a deep sense of longing for this
restored world through his careful use
of imaginative language.

Crystal:
Modernist empiricists,
that is people focused on what can be
observed scientifically, transformed the
Latin term bona fide, (good faith) into the
definition still used today: something is
bona fide, i.e. authentic, only if it is empirically verifiable.
But for medieval Christians, authentic truth was bona fide because it was
something taken by faith and practiced
through community. Sayers didn’t fully
appreciate the bona fide of community
until she began writing imaginative literature for the theater, asserting that “I
recognize in the theatre all the stigmata
of a real and living church.” Thanks
to The Zeal of Thy House and her other
religious plays that followed, Sayers
experienced the interdependence of a
writer, director, actor, scene designer,
costume-maker, lighting technician,
etc., all contributing to and learning
from each other.
Theater thus echoes St. Paul’s most
extended metaphor: the church as one
body with many members, each with an
important role to play. But, more important, the imaginative literature that the
theatrical body performed—whether
on stage or on the radio—was what
powerfully affected many of Sayers’s
contemporaries. She received scores of
letters from people telling her that for
the first time in their lives, thanks to her
plays, Christ and/or Christian doctrine
made sense to them.
Sayers, then, would encourage
Christians to engage theater as a means
to get past watchful dragons. I particularly think she would be delighted with
the imaginative work of my colleague
Ron Reed, who is currently writing a play
exploring the complexities of the friendship between Tolkien and Lewis—a play
that includes parts for Williams, Sayers,
Joy Davidman, and Inklings Warren
Lewis (C. S. Lewis’s brother), Hugo
Dyson, and Roy Campbell. Even today,
the interaction between these authors
still fascinates—and their truths still
compel. C H

honoring a writer
and scholar Left:
Walter Hooper, John Hall
(dean of Westminster),
Michael Ward, and Douglas
Gresham lay flowers on
Lewis’s memorial stone in
Westminster Abbey. Below:
Gresham reads from The
Last Battle in honor of his
stepfather: “Further up and
further in!”

Sermons in stone: Lewis comes
to Poets’ Corner

W

hen the father of English poetry, Geoffrey Chaucer, died in 1400,
he was buried in Westminster Abbey, England’s coronation church. The
transept where he rests has become known as “Poets’ Corner” because many
other great figures of English literature—dramatists and novelists as well as
poets—have been buried or memorialized alongside him. Shakespeare, Milton,
and Jane Austen are just a few of them.
Now C. S. Lewis’s name joins that eminent fellowship. On the 50th anniversary of his death (November 22, 2013), a memorial to Lewis was unveiled in a
thanksgiving service at Westminster Abbey attended by 1,000 people.
Prayers came from the rector of St. Mark’s, Belfast, where Lewis was baptized; from representatives of Magdalen College, Oxford, and Magdalene
College, Cambridge, where he worked; and from the vicar of Holy Trinity,
Headington Quarry, where he is buried.
Scripture passages were read by Lewis’s pupil, Francis Warner, and
by his successor as professor of medieval and Renaissance English at
Cambridge, Helen Cooper. Lewis’s stepson, Douglas Gresham, recited a
passage from The Last Battle, and his editor, Walter Hooper, laid flowers on
the memorial.
Former archbishop of Canterbury Dr. Rowan Williams, now master of
Magdalene College, Cambridge, gave the address.
The choir sang “Veni Sancte Spiritus” by George Fenton from the film
Shadowlands and a musical setting of Lewis’s poem, “Love’s as Warm as
Tears”—the latter especially written for the occasion by royal wedding composer, Paul Mealor.
The memorial bears words from Lewis’s address to the Oxford Socratic
Club, “Is Theology Poetry?”:
“I believe in Christianity as I believe that the Sun has risen, not only because
I see it but because by it I see everything else.” —Michael Ward

Issue 1139

The storyteller

George MacDonald’s stories showed a world of goodness and holiness to Lewis and
Chesterton, and still shows that same world to us
Kirstin Jeffrey Johnson

10

“My imagination was baptized”

The Princess and the Goblin, proclaimed journalist and
philosopher G. K. Chesterton, “made a difference to
my whole existence. . . . Of all the stories I have read,
including even all the novels of the same novelist, it
remains the most real, the most realistic, in the exact
sense of the phrase the most like life.”
And Phantastes, about a scholar lost in fairyland,
asserted critic and apologist C. S. Lewis, was a “voice
which called to me . . . I knew that I had crossed a great
frontier . . . my imagination was, in a certain sense, baptized.” When asked near the end of his life and career
(in 1962) to list books that had most shaped his “vocational attitude” and “philosophy of life,” Lewis placed
the works of Virgil, Boethius, George Herbert, and
even Chesterton subservient to that tale about the
fairyland wanderer.
Lewis explained that what he had found there went
beyond the expression of things already felt. It arouses
in us sensations we have never had before, never anticipated having, as though we had broken out of our normal mode of consciousness and “possessed joys not
promised to our birth.” It gets under our skin, he said;
it hits us at a level deeper than our thoughts or passions, troubles oldest certainties till all questions are
reopened, and shocks us fully awake.
Some story. And the storyteller? George MacDonald.

Christian History

Bookshelf—Ron Block

Once upon a time . . . a long time ago—though
not so long as you might suspect—there was a man
who believed that stories must be told. For after all,
he knew that was what had happened in the beginning: stories were told. Once upon a time . . . a long
time ago, stories changed the world forever in the
beginning; in the days of Caesar Augustus; and
ever since.
And so this man told stories too: some were of real
events, some could have been, and others were pure
fantasy. But all were shaped by an imagination that
strove to make stories in imitation of the goodness
and holiness of the Original Story Crafter.
A poor composition tactic, some would say. They
would argue that goodness and holiness are boring elements in a tale and never as interesting as
evil. Yet again and again, this man’s stories changed
lives. They changed the lives of boys, girls, men, and
women; the lives of anonymous readers and those
well known: John Ruskin, Florence Nightingale,
Oswald Chambers, Madeleine L’Engle, Hans Urs Von
Balthasaar.
The storyteller wrote sermons, poetry, and essays
too, and his disciples found them likewise full of
treasures. But it was his stories that drew the most
praise from his advocates. These stories—even the
fairytales—had truly changed their lives.

a shelf of imagination Left: MacDonald wrote realistic
novels of Scottish life as well as famous fantasy tales.

Curdie and the Fire of Roses— illustration by Charles Folkard; Used by permission of The Marion E. Wade Center, Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL

the fire and the rose Right: To receive the gift of
discernment, Curdie in The Princess and Curdie must thrust
his hands into the princess’s cleansing fire.

One of the most striking facts about the eminent
status granted MacDonald by Chesterton and Lewis is
just how many other stories they had read. These men
were obsessive bibliophiles, reading more than most
of us ever could or would. Their brains were legendary; their standards exacting. While they did not claim
MacDonald to be the best writer they had encountered,
they did declare that his books revolutionized their
lives as no other books had.
In him they found a scholar who explained that
the divine gift of imagination is not merely the partner to reason, but its flip side; imagination and reason are mutually dependent. But it must be exercised
and practiced. Lewis noted in his well-marked copy of
MacDonald’s Dish of Orts: “Repression of Imagination
leads not to its disappearance but to its corruption.”
MacDonald reminded readers that imagination
forms a powerful component of human identity. How
and where and why we exercise it shapes our present,
future, past—and affects every relationship, with all
God’s creation, human or otherwise. He sought to exercise that imagination in a manner pleasing to God and
in a way that would invite, even compel others to do the
same. Chesterton and Lewis were compelled.
“A wise Imagination,” wrote MacDonald, “is the
presence of the spirit of God.” But as his essay “The
Imagination: Its Functions and Its Culture” convinced
Lewis the imagination requires cultivation in the presence of goodness and holiness.
To truly understand how this is so, we must experience it. Lewis wrote that the best way to grasp how
MacDonald’s presentation of goodness and holiness
can have such dramatic impact is to read and experience for oneself stories such as Sir Gibbie, The Wise
Woman, or Annals of a Quiet Neighbourhood. Mere explanation will not suffice.
That MacDonald could craft such stories was not
simple talent. He diligently studied other presentations
of goodness and holiness: he examined, explored, compared them. He considered their representation within
Scripture as well as works by Dante, Chaucer, Sidney,
Shakespeare, Herbert, and Tolstoy.

careful critic and scholar

And he endeavored to practice what he found, convinced that “nobility of thought” would corrupt without “nobility of deed.” What Lewis learned over years
of reading MacDonald, what changed his life and
helped prepare him to receive the Gospel, came from
MacDonald’s care-filled labor. MacDonald’s voca-

tion, his prime profession for decades, was as a literary scholar. And his critical methods, particularly his
determination to draw his readers into conversation
with literary greats from Plato and Paul to Bunyan and
Coleridge, left their mark.
While each of our seven sages engaged with
MacDonald in one fashion or another, Lewis claimed
the greatest debt. In his Anthology of MacDonald, Lewis
sounded a bit exasperated that his readers had not
taken him at his word:
In making this collection I was discharging a
debt of justice. I have never concealed the fact that
I regarded [MacDonald] as my master; indeed I
fancy I have never written a book in which I did
not quote from him. But it has not seemed to me
that those who have received my books kindly
take even now sufficient notice of the affiliation.
Honesty drives me to emphasize it.
Yet Lewis’s attempt to direct his readers to one of
his primary influences continues to be largely ignored.
That an author of fairy tales and fantasies could have
such profound impact on the famed Oxbridge apologist often evokes a slightly patronizing response: isn’t
Lewis exaggerating a tad? But a close reader of both
authors cannot deny the truth of the admission.
Lewis had imbibed MacDonald’s fairy tales since
childhood, a shared love that was one of the first things
drawing him to become friends with Tolkien. Upon
adult reflection Lewis realized that “the quality which
had enchanted me in [MacDonald’s] imaginative works
turned out to be the quality of the real universe, the

Issue 11311

carried away Left: Poor boy Diamond has magical
adventures riding At the Back of the North Wind.
deep in thought Below: MacDonald composes a
story at his desk.

divine, magical, terrifying, and ecstatic reality in which
we all live.”

love of goodness
Returning to Lewis’s remark that MacDonald’s Phantastes “baptized” his imagination in 1915 at the age of
17, it is helpful to remember that he spoke as an Anglican for whom baptism was not a premeditated, fullimmersion, public declaration. Instead the image is of
an infant brought to the font on another’s initiative;
the holy commencement of something unexpected,
yet full of promise. “Nothing was at that time further from my thoughts than Christianity.” In reading Phantastes Lewis “learned to love” goodness and
discovered “a new quality”: holiness. It was, he later
reflected, a beginning.
Having rediscovered MacDonald as a teenager,
Lewis became a passionate fan. Letters
to his friend Arthur Greeves teems with
enthusiastic discussions of realistic novels as well as of fantasies. Lewis’s transition from student to professor did little to abate this fervor, not least because
he kept finding fellow MacDonald
admirers.
When Owen Barfield gave Lewis
a copy of MacDonald’s book-length
prayer-poem Diary of an Old Soul in 1929,
Lewis confessed this was the first he had
read the work properly: “[It] is magnificent. You placed the moment of giving it
to me admirably, I remember with horror

12

the absurdity of my last criticism on it, with shame the
vulgarity of the form in which I excused it.” Lewis read
each stanza, allocated for each day of the year, faithfully—like a devotional.
At the end of 1930 and still preconversion, Lewis
bought what would become his favorite MacDonald
novel: What’s Mine’s Mine. Within the text, two brothers struggle with concepts of faith, commitment, obedience, and love. They fight against community destruction and environmental degradation. They discuss
Isaiah, Euclid, and Virgil. All these themes reiterated
what Lewis had read elsewhere in MacDonald as a
child and young adult.
By the time Lewis became a Christian, he had been
repeatedly exposed to these emphases in MacDonald.
He wrote: “When the process was complete—by which,
of course, I mean ‘when it had really begun’—I found
out that I was still with MacDonald and
that he had accompanied me all the way
and that I was now at last ready to hear
from him much that he could not have
told me at that first meeting. But in a
sense, what he was now telling me was
the very same that he had told me from
the beginning.”
Those willing to meet MacDonald
themselves in the originals should
remember he was a Victorian author,
using nineteenth-century language and
metaphors. Thus his readership dwindled in the twentieth century. But it is
rising significantly in the twenty-first.

Christian History

North Wind illustration—Kirstin Johnson
MacDonald writing— George MacDonald portrait ©Thomas Williams, www.thomaswilliamsonline.com. Used with permission.
Bookplate—Used by permission of The Marion E. Wade Center, Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL

A LITTLE PUZZLE Bottom: Rearrange the letters in
MacDonald’s motto, “Corage God Mend Al,” from his
bookplate and you get . . . “George MacDonald.”

Chesterton predicted that the time for readers to truly
understand MacDonald had yet to come: the recent
surge suggests he was correct.
Perhaps MacDonald meets a need recently identified by author Toni Morrison. She cautioned of “the
death of goodness in literature” and described a cultural obsession with evil. Denying that goodness is
monotonous, she pledged to write novels in which
goodness has “life-changing properties,” “never trivial . . . never incidental.” She acknowledged it won’t be
easy; evil is easy.

Phantastes cover—Used by permission of The Marion E. Wade Center, Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL

in the beginning was the story
But what she sought was exactly what Chesterton and
Lewis found in MacDonald. Both knew too well the
attraction and compulsion of literature that give evil an
intellectual platform. Yet MacDonald convinced them
what Morrison urged her Harvard audience to believe:
that goodness is never trivial, but life-changing—as it
was in the beginning; in the days of Caesar Augustus;
and is now and ever shall be.
MacDonald gave considered attention throughout his works to the relationship between imagination and science. But he was clear that in the beginning
there was a Story in which we were called to participate. Even in his novels he reminded the reader that
once upon a time the Original Story Crafter invited
us to imagine with him; and that in the days of Rome,
Christ reminded us to see how others imaged and reimaged truths.
MacDonald also drew our attention to other storytellers who used their imaginations to communicate
Gospel truths to their particular cultures and eras. He
was convinced that those who are attentive to such conversations throughout the ages will be better able to
communicate to their own eras. Chesterton and Lewis
stand as witnesses.
As MacDonald the storyteller (and essayist, sermon writer, poet, professor, hymnist, anthologist,
and literary critic) continues to receive renewed attention, perhaps the recommendations of Lewis and
Chesterton will become a mere footnote, and readers will independently discover the transformative
power of his work. Even for Lewis endorsement was
only a start. He wrote of MacDonald, “I dare not say
he is never in error; but to speak plainly I know hardly
any other writer who seems to be closer, or more
continually close, to the Spirit of Christ Himself.”
And then he told some stories to explain: not so very
long ago. C H
Kirstin Jeffrey Johnson is the author of Storykeeper: The
Mythopoeic Making of George MacDonald (2015); lectures internationally on MacDonald, Tolkien, and Lewis; and
is on the board of SEVEN: An Anglo-American Literary
Review. For more, see kirstinjeffreyjohnson.com.

What C. S. Lewis learned
from his “master”

L

ewis’s writing is often recommended to those
seeking to better understand Christianity.
But his recommendation to seekers was to read
George MacDonald: “My own debt to [Unspoken
Sermons] is almost as great as one man can owe to
another: and nearly all serious inquirers to whom
I have introduced it acknowledge that it has given
them great help—sometimes indispensable help
toward the very acceptance of the Christian faith.”
MacDonald not only discipled Lewis as
a Christian, but also as an author and literary
scholar. If, like Lewis, you delight in what he
calls “source-hunting,” then tracing Lewis’s literary roots in MacDonald may prove boundless.
You will discover the source of the title of Till We
Have Faces, of Lewis’s vision of “Shadowlands,”
of his designation
unman for the diabolical villain in
Perelandra. You will
find
characters
who step into pictures, pass between
worlds, and discuss the options of
liar, fool, or truthteller. You will meet
a “child of Adam,”
know heaven as a
“high country,” and
be reminded that
God is not tame. A “faerie romance”
Phantastes influenced
You will read of a Lewis’s conversion and has
dwarf who thinks delighted readers for over
himself a man, 150 years.
trace reconfigurations of the Psyche myth, and detect familiar
approaches to Dante, Milton, and Spenser. You
will identify intimations of Jadis in her ancestress Lilith, recognize parallels to Ransom in
the “Curdie books” he gives to Jane, and realizes that the character of “George MacDonald”
in The Great Divorce is only one of many homages Lewis pays to his “master.”
If archives entice, visit Wheaton College’s
Wade Center to peruse Lewis’s personal editions
of MacDonald. In the essay “Imagination,” for
instance, he responded with a sentence at the top of
every page. But don’t just scan the notes, do Lewis
the honor of reading MacDonald yourself. You
too may find great, perhaps indispensable, help.
—Kirstin Jeffrey Johnson

Issue 11313

Bread of the earth and
bread of heaven
G. K. Chesterton’s Christian economics

Many readers know G. K. Chesterton as a slashing satirist, uproarious comic, master of paradoxes, deft
apologist, and defender of the faith. A famed journalist in his day, he was also the author of over 100 books
and became one of the most notable English converts to
Roman Catholicism in the twentieth century. His output
included popular books like Orthodoxy, The Man Who
Was Thursday, and The Ballad of the White Horse. Interestingly, C. S. Lewis attributed his return to Christian faith
largely to reading Chesterton’s The Everlasting Man.
Critics often identify Chesterton as archconservative, even reactionary. He certainly admired
things medieval and scorned things modern: woman
suffrage, divorce on any grounds, contraception. His
main objection to dueling, he joked, was not that it
leaves someone dead, but that it settles no arguments.
He was also an avowed advocate of nearly all things
ancestral, describing tradition as “the democracy of

14

the dead”—granting voice to our ancestors, the most
numerous of all voters.
But don’t put Chesterton in a box marked “conservative” too quickly. He was a lifelong economic liberal,
defending the poor against the rich. Long before he
began to identify as a Christian, Chesterton lamented
what he called the “revolution of the rich”: Henry VIII’s
sixteenth-century government seizure of monastery
property and estates, as well as the closing of public
lands that had once served as shared grazing ground
for sheep and cattle owners. But Chesterton’s anger was
no antiquarian obsession. He thought market capitalism had made such exploitation ever more pernicious,
especially from the nineteenth century on. He protested with a relentless barrage of denunciations:
The poor have sometimes objected to being governed badly; the rich have always objected to
being governed at all. . . . It is a sufficient proof that

Christian History

Chesterton at desk—WIkipedia

Ralph C. Wood

cartoonist Right: Chesterton gently mocked his
own social views (presented in The Outline of Sanity),
by picturing his large girth as the “three acres” to be
given to the poor along with a cow.

we are not an essentially democratic state that we
are always wondering what we shall do with the
poor. If we were democrats, we should be wondering what the poor will do with us. . . . Among
the rich you will never find a really generous man
even by accident. They may give their money
away, but they will never give themselves away;
they are egotistic, secretive, dry as old bones. To
be smart enough to get all that money you must
be dull enough to want it. . . . The whole case for
Christianity is that a man who is dependent upon
the luxuries of life is a corrupt man, spiritually corrupt, politically corrupt, financially corrupt. There
is one thing that Christ and all the Christian saints
have said with a sort of savage monotony. They
have said simply that to be rich is to be in peculiar
danger of moral wreck.

Three acres and cow—Courtesy Kirstin Jeffrey Johnson
Outline of Sanity—Used by permission of The Marion E. Wade Center, Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL

making good and doing good
Chesterton believed that much of modern economics, like much of modern science, envisions humans as
merely animals to be controlled and manipulated like
any other species. He especially opposed philosopher
and political theorist Herbert Spencer’s misconstrual of
Darwinism as an economic struggle for “the survival of
the fittest,” a phrase that Darwin never used (see CH 107,
Debating Darwin). For Chesterton this slogan enabled
ruthless corporate capitalists to sanction their greed as
in accord with nature, privileging the energetic and the
bustling over the laggard and the straggler.
He was not altogether pleased, either, with his trips
to America. He admired it as “the home of the homeless” and saluted the vigorous witness of churches
and church-related colleges. Yet he was appalled by
American economic competition, saying that it led to
the worship of success and money as moral imperatives.
“America does vaguely feel,” he wrote in What I Saw
in America (1926), that “a man making good is something analogous to a man being good or a man doing
good.” Ironically, he thought, competition produced
sameness rather than variety: “Where men are trying
to compete with each other they are trying to copy each
other.”
Chesterton was a capital-L Liberal in its original
political meaning. This British political party believed
that people had the right to exercise freedom and
self-determination and that it was the job of good government to help them do so by setting them free.
He argued that nineteenth-century English culture largely resulted from the successful effort of the

British political establishment to stave
off radical social reform. Absent a
revolution such as the one in France
(1789), hereditary aristocrats joined
the newly rich middle class to prevent the masses from gaining any real
power of self-determination. (In France,
by way of contrast, the masses had
briefly overthrown both.) Chesterton
called their victory “the cold Victorian
compromise.”
Chesterton’s literary heroes, on
the other hand, were morally passionate Liberals who raised the alarm to
break the shameless silence about the
plight of the poor and the passed over:
Browning and Stevenson, Ruskin and Carlyle, and especially Dickens—these writers were unafraid to mount
political pulpits and proclaim their abiding concern for
the down-and-out.
Like his literary champions, Chesterton regarded
the poor and destitute not as an abstract “surplus”
class, but as companions encountered in the streets
and lanes and shops of London. Chesterton’s friend
W. R. Titterton reported that GKC “exalted cabbies and
carpenters and charwomen and fishermen and farm
labourers, and was on pally terms even with small

Issue 11315

author A cartoon of GKC writing The
Outline of Sanity mocks his well-known
absent-mindedness.

shopkeepers, farmers, and country squires. He visited the slum, not slumming, but hob-nobbing; and he
found everything there admirable except the slum.”
Though a devout Catholic, Chesterton proclaimed
enthusiasm for the French Revolution despite its antiCatholic crimes and horrors. He believed that at great
cost it had established truths that, by cooperating with
aristocrats and royalty, the Catholic Church in France
had largely lost sight of. With a triple theological,
political, and visual pun he stated the Christian premise undergirding democracy: “All men are equal, as
all pennies are equal, because the only value in any of
them is that they bear the image of the King.”
Chesterton exalted, but never romanticized, the
poor as occupying an inherently blessed condition. He
hoped they would make their way up into the middle
class. He feared, however, that capitalists and socialists
alike were keeping them in perpetual bondage, sealing
them off from the freedoms and delights to be found in
the life of towns and suburbs rather than of tenements
and slums.
For most of his life, Chesterton assumed that
enough residual Christianity remained at work in the
common people that they would use their freedom
wisely. The newfound liberty he advocated through

16

no guarantees of survival
Chesterton eventually came to believe the Liberal economic and social program had a canker at its core.
While offering protections against common evils, it had
difficulty defining common goods, especially when its
religious basis was eroded. This political movement
that had aimed to set people free from unnecessary
rules and restrictions, he reluctantly admitted, would
instead drain Christian virtue from the public realm
and lead to a return to the brute state of nature, without
a moral compass to direct and limit human desire.
Every civilization has failed, Chesterton observed,
and there is no guarantee that modern Western civilization will endure simply because it is democratic. As a
self-generating and self-preserving enterprise, democracy cannot provide the center to keep things from
falling apart.
Yet Chesterton never panicked. Instead, he joined
forces with his friend Hilaire Belloc (1870–1953), not only
to find a way beyond the socialist-capitalist impasse,
but also to keep his wits about him. Belloc was a writer,
historian, and politician now notable mostly for his
polemical essays and witty verse, including the rather
macabre The Bad Child’s Book of Beasts and Cautionary
Tales for Children, including rhymes like this one:

Christian History

“The Outline of Sanity” Satirical Cartoon of G.K. Chesterton—Private Collection / Bridgeman Images

his political and social writings would
enable ordinary families, communities,
and institutions to flourish, he thought,
provided that gigantic governments and
corporations did not devour them.
But gradually he discerned that,
in an increasingly secularized Britain,
Christianity was dying, and freedom
disappearing along with it. The vision of
Dostoevsky’s Grand Inquisitor was coming to terrible fruition, in which more
and more people demanded material
security in exchange for their spiritual
liberty (much like modern debates over
the sacrifice of privacy on the Internet in
the name of convenience).
Chesterton argued that both economic options are flawed. Socialists
insisted that the state should protect
everyone from economic and personal
failure, without regard to any merit or
incentive. Capitalists urged the state
to promote the instinct to acquire ever
more comforts and conveniences, with
the result that the plutocratic few could
wall themselves off from the impoverished many.

I shoot the hippopotamus
with bullets made of platinum,
Because if I use leaden ones
his hide is sure to flatten ‘em.
The two friends rejected capitalism
as built on a profoundly anti-communal devotion to competition and thus on
the desire to gouge rather than help the
neighbor. They also rejected socialism
as surrendering important personal and
local endeavors—family, health, education—to a supposedly omnicompetent
state. In both cases, the result would be
what Belloc called the Servile State: voluntary slaves chained to wages and
pensions and governmental controls.
Hence their revolutionary idea, which
they called “distributism,” inspired
largely by economic claims made in
papal encyclicals Rerum Novarum (1891)
and Quadragesimo Anno (1931). These
encyclicals argued that the Christian
virtue of justice must be understood not
only as a system of reciprocity, but also
as a system of distribution. Distributive
justice is the notion that nothing belongs
exclusively to a private individual; whatever she or he possesses is also a share of
those goods belonging to everyone.

Chesterton illustration—From Return to Chesterton by Maisie Ward (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1952)
Shaw, Belloc, Chesterton—Wikipedia

Three acres and a cow
Rather than dealing out money equally to all, like the
socialists, Chesterton and Belloc wanted a system of
government that would distribute modest acreages
of land; newly propertied landholders would achieve
personal self-respect and economic self-sufficiency in
cooperation with neighbors. The two also sought to
revive a modern version of the medieval guild system,
so that urban laborers would own and manage the factories and companies in which they worked.
Finally, they supported the Catholic principle of subsidiarity: the idea that most important political and social
matters should be negotiated as near to their source as
possible. The Napoleon of Notting Hill (1904), Chesterton’s
hilarious novel in defense of neighborhoods, takes this
principle to its utmost conclusion as hero Adam Wayne
fights battles in defense of his own small district of
London. “Notting Hill is a nation,” declares Wayne.
“Why should it condescend to become a mere Empire?”
Distributism has been ridiculed as impractical.
Even Chesterton’s most ardent admirers often lament
the labors he devoted to it instead of producing even
more of the poetry, fiction, and cultural criticism
for which he is rightly remembered. But Chesterton
regarded it as his vocation to develop a distinctively
Christian regard for money and property.

matchmaker Top: Chesterton drew compulsively even
after leaving art school. Here he produced a set of
possible husbands for a friend.
partner Above: Belloc (middle) and Chesterton were
so closely linked that playwright George Bernard Shaw
(left) dubbed them “the Chesterbelloc.”

These things could not be left to sort themselves
out, given the cultural collapse of the West—what
Chesterton’s interpreter Stephen Clark called “the
Laodicean mood . . . that nothing is worth dying for, but
life is not worth living.” Chesterton thus came to put
his trust ever more surely in the body of Christ, not the
Liberal Party, as the authentic public and political alternative to the capitalist and socialist Leviathan.
He envisioned the church, for all its failings and
compromises, as the world’s one truly revolutionary
force. When it is faithful, he argued, it constantly pushes
us toward a radical reordering of our desires, both corporal and spiritual; toward an economics capable of
multiplying a handful of loaves into temporal bread for
the world as well as eternal Bread of Heaven. CH
Ralph C. Wood is University Professor of Theology and Literature at Baylor University, a member of Seven’s editorial
board, and author of The Gospel According to Tolkien and
Chesterton: The Nightmare Goodness of God.

Issue 11317

Sayers “begins here” with a vision
for social and intellectual change
hen G. K. Chesterton
died, Dorothy L. Sayers wrote to his widow saying,
“G. K.’s books have become more
a part of my mental make-up than
those of any writer you could
name.” Chesterton’s Orthodoxy
(1908) prevented Sayers from
abandoning Christianity during
her adolescence, and his insights
later informed her education at
Oxford University.
In 1913 Sayers read Chesterton’s What’s Wrong with the World
(1910), and the next year she
attended several of his Oxford lectures. Chesterton laid the groundwork for Sayers’s analysis of
what was wrong with her world.
Already famous for her Lord
Peter Wimsey detective stories, Sayers was
asked to compose a wartime message in
September 1939. Begin Here appeared only
four months later (and included a quote from
Chesterton). In her preface, she noted: “This
book does not pretend to offer any formula
for constructing an Earthly Paradise: no such
formula is possible. It suggests only that
there is at present something incomplete
about the average human being’s conception of himself and society, and that the first
step towards constructing the kind of world
he wants is to decide the kind of person he
is, and ought to be.”
Sayers’s book outlined how views of
human nature had changed in the modern
era, when biological, sociological, psychological, and economic explanations of behavior
replaced theological ones. Though endorsing the theological worldview, she noted
that the church’s capitulation to political
agendas had contributed to its subsequent
idolization of reason and “progress.”
She wrote decades before today’s postmodern challenges to the Enlightenment‘s
sanctification of reason. But Sayers anticipated today’s troubles with the modern era’s
emphases on reason and progress. She suggested that unquestioned belief in progress

18

often leads to violence: for instance, Marxist
faith in communism and German belief in
national socialism.
However, while many contemporary
postmodern texts emphasize the deconstruction of such modernist absolutes, Begin
Here encouraged the creative construction
of something new. Sayers wanted to nudge
people out of their passivity, to get them to
think independently rather than conform to
cultural dogmas.
Exhorting people to analyze what they
read, to discuss with others different works
on the same topic, and to compare multiple
viewpoints, she asserted that “words . . . can
change the face of the world.”

not just the facts, ma’am

Sayers knew that the words of Chesterton
had changed the face of her own world. As
she explained in a 1954 letter, “If I am not
now a Logical Positivist, I probably have to
thank G. K. C.” Sayers’s attraction to logical positivism, a philosophy that held that
only empirically verifiable facts can ground
truth, explains why, in 1947, she dismissed
Begin Here as “a very rush job, undertaken
much against my will,” with factual “errors
and omissions.”
Little did she know that Begin Here
would foreshadow our eventual attack on
the “just the facts, ma’am” attitude. One
day postmodernists would echo her insight
that “with the abandonment of an absolute Authority outside history, the seat of
absolute authority within history tends to
become identified with the seat of effective
power.”
Thanks largely to Chesterton, Sayers’s
solution to the arbitrary absolutes and
power of secular culture was the divine
authority of Christian orthodoxy: an absolute transcending all culturally contingent
dogmas. She would have reminded us that
the creative work of contributing to culture,
as an expression of the image of God, the
imago Dei, must therefore always begin here,
with these words: “In the beginning, God
created.” —Crystal Downing

Christian History

Signed portrait—Used by permission of The Marion E. Wade Center, Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL
Begin Here—Used by permission of The Marion E. Wade Center, Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL

W

Why hobbits eat local
J. R. R. Tolkien and his friend C. S. Lewis shared an ideal of remaining rooted on the
land of God’s good creation

Tolkien portrait—© copyright Billett Potter, Oxford

Matthew Dickerson
Some seven or so years before the 1937 publication of The Hobbit, J. R. R. Tolkien spoke to his friend
C. S. Lewis about the importance of eating locally
grown food. Tolkien’s words made an impression, and
Lewis referenced them in a letter written in 1930 to
another friend:
Tolkien once remarked to me that the feeling
about home must have been quite different in
the days when a family had fed on the produce
of the same few miles of country for six generations, and that perhaps this was why they saw
nymphs in the fountains and dryads in the
wood—they were not mistaken for there was
in a sense a real (not metaphorical) connection
between them and the countryside. What had
been earth and air & later corn, and later still
bread, really was in them. We of course who live
on a standardized international diet (you may
have had Canadian flour, English meat, Scotch
oatmeal, African oranges, & Australian wine

A pipe and some books Tolkien pondering Middleearth, perhaps, in his study. He once described himself
as “a hobbit in all but size.”

to day) are really artificial beings and have no
connection (save in sentiment) with any place
on earth. We are synthetic men, uprooted. The
strength of the hills is not ours.

prophetic thoughts
It is remarkable that Tolkien and Lewis had this conversation more than 80 years ago, before the modern
movement to “think global, eat local” began, or the
term “agrarian” came into wide usage, or broad criticisms arose of industrialized agriculture. Their concerns were both prophetic and profound.
The word “agrarian” appeared in the title of the
book I’ll Take My Stand: The South and the Agrarian
Tradition, written by 12 southern writers and first published in 1930, the same year Lewis wrote the letter.

Issue 11319

a green and pleasant place Left: Tolkien drew this
illustration of the Shire in which hobbits lived in peace
and plenty.

Although evidence suggests the term was coined over
a century earlier from a Latin word meaning “of the
land,” it did not gain popularity until much later in
the twentieth century. Landmark conservationist
books—Aldo Leopold’s Sand Country Almanac (1949)
on rehabilitating a farm ravaged by industrial agriculture and Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring (1962) decrying
the widespread use of pesticides—remained decades
in the future.
Over the decades since Tolkien’s death, poet, essayist, and novelist Wendell Berry outlined many of the
principles of agrarianism. Like Leopold and Carson,
Berry argued that respectful agricultural practices are
healthier for the land and food grown on it. Future generations benefit from a long-term commitment to that
land, especially when the food grown there is eaten by
those who live on or near it.
Likewise the agrarian movement maintains that
when those who work the soil are the same as those
who have an economic stake in the soil and live near
that soil, their practices are healthier. By contrast,
Berry said, the “standardized international diet”
eaten today often requires large-scale industrialized

20

mono-crop agriculture dependent on synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, and high shipping costs.

the strength of the hills
Tolkien, while he did not use the term “agrarian” (or
any other single term like it ) in The Hobbit or The Lord
of The Rings, referred in his personal letters to its opposite: “industrialized and militarized agriculture.” He
provided in his stories an imaginative portrayal of the
destructiveness of these techniques in contrast to the
goodness and health of agrarian methods.
It is evident from correspondence that Tolkien—
and Lewis—believed that when we eat locally we have
a more profound connection to the land around us. We
are thus more inclined to care about its health and more
likely to see ourselves in relationship to that land.
When we are connected to our local land through
our eating, they argued, something of the “strength
of the hills” is in us—a reference by Lewis in his letter to the King James Version of Psalm 95:4: “In his
hand are the deep places of the earth: the strength
of the hills is his also.” Those words were composed
in praise of God by a psalmist within the ancient

Christian History

Hobbiton illustration—The Bodleian Library, University of Oxford, MS. Tolkien Drawings 26 “The Hill: Hobbiton-across-the-Water”; Used by permission of The JRR Tolkien Estate
Favorite Tree—Jim Linwood / Flickr

one stately TREE Below: Tolkien’s favorite tree in
the Oxford Botanical Gardens recalls one of his Ents.
Sadly, weather damage led to its felling in 2014.

21 Merton Street—Tricia Porter
Tolkien in garden—©Pamela Chandler / ArenaPal / The Image Works

agrarian Hebrew culture tens of centuries earlier.
Thus Lewis and Tolkien suggested that something
of God’s strength becomes ours when we are connected to the local hills and soil that God created.
And something of that strength is lost, they thought,
in a culture of industrialized agriculture and international diet. When we lose that connection, we
become uprooted.
While it may be tempting to dismiss the TolkienLewis conversation as passing comments by
sentimental romantics, there is considerable evidence
that Tolkien—whose younger brother Hilary ran a
small family farm—was thinking more deeply about
the issue than that.
By the 1950s when The Lord of the Rings was published,
Tolkien was explicitly referring to “industrialized
agriculture” and portraying its ravages in his fiction.
His villains—from Sauron and Saruman in their dark
towers to the hobbit Lotho Sackville-Baggins who
takes over the Shire—regularly despoil the land over
which they rule through industrialization. Mordor has
slave-based agriculture and poisoned earth, Isengard
is stripped of trees, and finally the Shire comes perilously close to moving to a culture in which food is
grown as an export crop.
The Ent Treebeard, a treelike being in Tolkien’s
mythology who serves as guardian of actual trees,
responds to the wizard Saruman’s deforestation of
Isengard: “We Ents do not like being roused; and we
never are roused unless it is clear to us that our trees
and our lives are in great danger.”
Treebeard continues, “It is the orc-work, the wanton hewing—rárum—without even the bad excuse
of feeding the fires, that has so angered us; and the

stone streets Left: Tolkien lived in seven houses in
Oxford (this is the final one) and complained about the
traffic outside all of them.
good soil Above: But he did find some peace in his
garden. Here he stands in the garden at Sandfield Road
where he lived for 15 years.

treachery of a neighbour, who should have helped
us. Wizards ought to know better: they do know better. There is no curse in Elvish, Entish, or the tongues
of Men bad enough for such treachery. Down with
Saruman!”

weeds and not gardens
This same devastation is brought home to the hobbits
when they return to the ravaged Shire:
The pleasant row of old hobbit-holes in the bank
on the north side of the Pool were deserted, and
their little gardens that used to run down bright
to the water’s edge were rank with weeds. Worse,
there was a whole line of the ugly new houses all
along Pool Side, where the Hobbiton Road ran
close to the bank. An avenue of trees had stood
there. They were all gone. And looking with dismay up the road towards Bag End they saw a tall
chimney of brick in the distance. It was pouring
out black smoke into the evening air.
On April 25, 1954, Tolkien penned a letter to a fan
who had inquired about the fate of the Entwives, the
spouses of Tolkien’s beloved mythical tree-herding
Ents. Tolkien thought that mechanized agriculture
must have done the Entwives in too. “Tyrants,” he
wrote, “even in such tales, must have an economic

Issue 113 21

deep in a mountain glade This illustration Tolkien made of Rivendell, home
of some of his elves, shows that hobbits
were not the only ones living in harmony
with nature.

community at St. Anne’s and the industrialized practices of the villainous
folks at the Belbury mansion. Though
the book does not portray dryads or
nymphs, it does offer the famed sixthcentury magician Merlin—who rises
back to life from an old well in an old
wood—a spirit much in communion
with the spiritual qualities of nature.

and agricultural background to their soldiers and
metalworkers.” This letter is one of many hints that
Tolkien associated large-scale, slave-based agriculture with horrific evil.
The letter goes on to say. “If any [Entwives] survived so [as agricultural slaves of the tyrants], they
would indeed be far estranged from the Ents, and any
rapprochement would be difficult—unless experience
of industrialized and militarized agriculture had made
them a little more anarchic. I hope so. I don’t know.”
We also see Lewis and Tolkien not only defending
the importance of having a connection to soil, woods,
hills, and landscape, but also recognizing the sort of
stories growing out of and upholding those connections; the sort of stories in which we see “nymphs in
the fountains and dryads in the wood.” What Tolkien
called “the literature of Faërie” grew out of the principles of agrarianism.
Both Tolkien and Lewis would go on in the 30
years following the letter quoted at this article’s
beginning to devote much of their lives to writing
that very sort of literature. Lewis, in The Chronicles
of Narnia, explicitly includes river gods and wood
gods (nymphs and dryads). The killing of a dryad
presages the downfall of Narnia in The Last Battle.
And in the final book of his space trilogy, That
Hideous Strength, Lewis offers a stark contrast
between the traditional English agricultural practices associated with the heroes of his farming

22

Tolkien avoided the linguistic associations of dryads with Greek mythology.
But he still gave us in Lord of the Rings
sentient trees (or near-trees and tree
spirits) in creatures such as Ents, Entwives, and Old Man Willow.
And the beautiful and compelling
Goldberry, spouse of Tom Bombadil, in
human form is actually the Daughter
of the River—which is to say, a naiad or
river nymph. Tom Bombadil himself is
probably best understood as a sort of earth spirit.
Did Tolkien intentionally set out to write “agrarian literature?” Almost certainly not. At least not
in the sense that Aldo Leopold, Wendell Berry, or
Annie Dillard did. Tolkien was primarily concerned
with telling good and compelling stories. And several other themes held greater importance for him.
Nonetheless, though agrarianism may not be the central theme, it seems clear from their letters and from
the texts themselves that both Tolkien and Lewis
took it seriously.
But why? The answers are many and complex. But
one answer suggests that however peripheral the outward expression of agricultural concerns are in the
writings of Tolkien of Lewis, the underlying principles
behind their agrarian views came from a deep ideological core.
Both Tolkien, a devout Catholic, and Lewis, an
Anglican, believed that the cosmos in general and the
earth in particular were created by a good, caring, and
loving Creator and were themselves proclaimed by
that Creator to be good. The call to care for that good
creation is central to the created purpose of humans—
and elves and dwarfs and hobbits and talking animals.
All these are image-bearing creatures of the creative God (called in Elvish Eru Ilúvatar and in Narnia
the Emperor-Beyond-the-Sea). And while this creation
has worth and value as a place for God’s creatures
to live, it also has worth and value in and of itself.

Christian History

Rivendell illustration—The Bodleian Library, University of Oxford, MS. Tolkien Drawings 27 “Rivendell”; Used by permission of The JRR Tolkien Estate

trees that walk

Tolkien’s whole Middle-earth creation
narrative (the Ainulindalë, the first part
of the published Silmarillion) echoes this
idea from the book of Genesis, as does
The Magician’s Nephew, Lewis’s creation
account of Narnia.

Meeting Professor Tolkien

Clyde S. Kilby (from Tolkien and the Silmarillion)

Tolkien with map—©Pamela Chandler / ArenaPal / The Image Works
Clyde Kilby—Used by permission of The Marion E. Wade Center, Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL

tilling the soil
What results from this doctrine of creation is an ethic of land stewardship that
ought to govern the behavior of humans
(as well as elves, hobbits, and dwarfs). It
finds its clearest and most concise expression in the words of the wise wizard Gandalf, who near the end of The Lord of the
Rings gives to the gathered heroes and
Captains of the West at the Last Debate
this call to duty:
Other evils there are that may come;
for Sauron is himself but a servant or
emissary. Yet it is not our part to master all the tides of the world, but to do
what is in us for the succour of those
years wherein we are set, uprooting
the evil in the fields that we know,
so that those who live after may have
clean earth to till. What weather they
shall have is not ours to rule.
In the context in which they are spoken, Gandalf’s words refer to duties
other than agricultural ones. But the
fact that he chose that metaphor speaks
to its truth and importance. Each person has a duty to care for the soil—the
earth that is to be tilled—so that it will
be clean for future generations.
Lewis includes a similar charge
given by Aslan to Frank, the first king
of Narnia: “Use a spade and plough and
raise food out of the earth”, care for the
animals and do not enslave them. Such
a duty stemmed from these authors’
understanding of a doctrine of creation,
and is at the core of their portrayals of
agrarian practices, so that future generations might find the strength of the
hills still in them. C H
Matthew Dickerson is professor of computer science at Middlebury College and the
author of numerous books on myth, fantasy,
and the Inklings, including Ents, Elves and
Eriador: The Environmental Vision of J.
R. R. Tolkien and Narnia and the Fields
of Arbol: the Environmental Vision of
C. S. Lewis.

Clyde Kilby

I

FIRST MET J. R. R. Tolkien
late on the afternoon of September 1, 1964. His fame was then
rapidly on the rise, and he had been
forced to escape his public whenever he could. Visitors were more
or less constantly at his door and
his telephone busy. Phone callers
from the United States sometimes
forgot the time differential and
would get him out of bed at two
or three o’clock in the morning.
With great hopes and some
fears I walked to 76 Sandfield
Road, opened the gate, nervously
approached his door, and rang
the bell. I waited what seemed to
me a very long time and was on
the point of a reluctant departure
when the door opened and there
stood the man himself. Tolkien
matter-of-factly
invited
me
inside. . . . We went into his downstairs office, remodeled from a
garage. Possessing no automobile, he was then using taxis for
errands to Oxford, two miles
away, and elsewhere.
After his sober greeting at the
door, I found him immediately
friendly as we sat down. Tolkien
was a most genial man with a
steady twinkle in his eyes and a
great curiosity—the sort of person one instinctively likes. I . . . told
him that, like thousands of others, I had come to love [Lord of

preserving old tales Above:
Kilby’s encounters with Tolkien and
Lewis would one day lead him to
found the Wade Center.

the Rings] and regard it as something of a classic. He laughed at
the idea of being a classical author
while still alive, but I think he
was pleased. He then became
a bit apologetic and explained
that people sometimes regarded
him as a man living in a dream
world. This was wholly untrue, he
insisted, describing himself as a
busy philologist and an ordinary
citizen interested in everyday
things like anybody else. . . .
To my surprise, at the end of
our brief visit, Tolkien warmly
invited me back for the morning
of September 4, the day before
I was to fly home to the US. At
that time Mrs. Tolkien greeted
me at the door and showed me
upstairs to her husband’s main
office, a room crowded with a
large desk, a rotating bookcase,
wall bookcases, and a cot. I was
received like a longtime friend.
After returning to the United States,
Kilby wrote to Tolkien, offering to
come help him gather his scattered
manuscripts regarding Middle-earth
into publishable form; he spent the
summer of 1966 in Tolkien’s company.

Issue 11323

By Matt Forster


Few writers in
English have influenced the genre of
literature
fantasy
as much as George
MacDonald. His novels pulled back the
curtain on magical
worlds and inspired
Lewis Carroll, C. S.
Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, and Madeleine
L’Engle.
Born
in
1824
in Scotland, MacDonald attended
Aberdeen University and then Highbury
College, a school in London for training Congregational ministers. For three
years he served as pastor of Trinity
Congregational Church in Arundel, in the
south of England. Less Calvinistic than
the denomination he served, he left pastoral ministry and depended on writing and
tutoring to provide for his large family.
Poor health led him to move his family
to the Italian Riviera for 20 years. Highly
respected by his literary peers, MacDonald
counted among his acquaintances novelists Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins, and
Anthony Trollope. He also came to know
Mark Twain, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow while
touring in America.
Fantasy and fairy tales are often considered “juvenile” fiction, but MacDonald
proved the critics wrong as he used the
genre to explore Christian themes and
explicate the human condition.
•B
 orn December 10, 1824, Huntly,
Aberdeenshire, Scotland
• Died September 18, 1905, Ashtead,
Surrey, England
• Married Louisa Powell (m. 1851)
• Children Lilia, Mary, Caroline,
Greville, Irene, Winifred, Ronald,
Robert, Maurice, Bernard, George
• Selected Works
• Phantastes

(1858)
• The Princess and the Goblin (1872)
• The Princess and Curdie (1883)
• Lilith: A Romance (1895)

24

G. K. Chesterton

A generation separated
the Inklings from the life
of George MacDonald. The
interim years, however, were
not devoid of writers who
viewed culture through the
eyeglasses of faith. One of
the best known for this role
is G. K. Chesterton, artist and
literary critic. He authored not
only entertaining whodunits (there are over 50 Father
Brown mystery stories) but
also some of the most compelling Christian theology of his
time for lay readers.
Born in London in 1874,
Chesterton attended St. Paul’s
School, after which he went
to the University of London
where he studied art and literature without earning a degree
in either subject. Chesterton’s
career began when he found
work in a London publishing house. Not long after, he
began working as a freelancer,
writing articles on art and literature. This led to a job with
the Daily News and eventually
a position with the Illustrated
London News, where he was a
columnist for 30 years.
Chesterton was known for
his good-natured personality

and imposing physical presence. Often caricatured as
obese, he stood six foot, four
inches tall and weighed 286
pounds. A natural debater,
he did not hesitate to argue in
print and in person with the
luminaries of his day. Most
famously, he debated playwright and social critic
George Bernard Shaw, whom
he considered a friend.
While Chesterton’s reputation as an author of fiction orbits around his novels
(especially The Man Who Was
Thursday) and the Father
Brown stories, his true legacy
may turn out to be Orthodoxy
and The Everlasting Man.
These two books have become
classics of Christian apologetics. Though Chesterton was
an Anglican turned Roman
Catholic, a wide spectrum
of Christians read his books
today.
•B
 orn May 29, 1874, Kensington, London, England
• Died June 14, 1936, Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire,
England
• Married Frances Blogg
(m. 1901) (no children)
• Selected Works
• Orthodoxy (1908)
• The

Man Who Was Thursday (1908)
• The Everlasting Man (1925)
• The

Father Brown mysteries (51 stories, written
from 1910 to 1936)

Christian History

MacDonald—Wikipedia
Chesterton—Used by permission of The Marion E. Wade Center, Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL

George MacDonald

Tolkien in hallway—Copyright 1972, Douglas R. Gilbert. Used by permission of The Marion E. Wade Center, Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL
Inklings outside Trout—Used by permission of The Marion E. Wade Center, Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL

J. R. R. Tolkien

To the general moviegoing public, J. R. R. Tolkien
is well known. As the creator
of Middle-earth and author
of The Hobbit and The Lord of
the Rings, he enjoys an exalted
place among fantasy novelists. Many authors look back
to first reading about hobbits
and wizards as the spark that
launched their own creativity.
John Ronald Reuel Tolkien
was born in South Africa to
British parents, Arthur and
Mabel. His father worked for a
bank based in England. When
he was three, his mother took
him and his younger brother,
Hilary, to England to visit family. While they were away, his
father died. His mother, left
to rely on the financial support of her family, converted
to Roman Catholicism, much
to the disappointment of her
Baptist relatives who then
refused further funds. When
Mabel died in 1904 from complications of diabetes, her
close friend Fr. Francis Xavier
Morgan took in John (12) and
Hilary (10). Tolkien remained
a committed Catholic throughout his life.
Forever fascinated by languages—he created them
even as a child—Tolkien’s first
job after World War I service

was researching the etymology of words for the Oxford
English Dictionary. He later
became a professor of philology (the study of how language works) and wrote
a vocabulary for Middle
English. Tolkien’s novels are
heavily indebted to his work
as a philologist.
Meanwhile he had worked
on a private mythology for
years, but without real intentions to publish fiction. He
had to be persuaded to submit The Hobbit, originally
written for his children, to
publisher Allen and Unwin.
The success of the book and
a demand for more led him
to write The Lord of the Rings,
set in the invented landscape
he had been developing in his
spare time for so long.
Since Tolkien’s death his
son Christopher has edited
and published much of his
father’s manuscript work—
most recently, a translation
of Beowulf.
• Born January 3, 1892,
Bloemfontein, Orange Free
State, South Africa
• Died September 2, 1973,
Bournemouth, England
• Married Edith Bratt
(m. 1916)
• Children: John, Michael,
Christopher, Priscilla
• Selected Works
• Sir

Gawain and the Green
Knight (1925, ed. with
E. V. Gordon)
• “Beowulf:

The Monsters
and the Critics” (1936)
• The Hobbit (1937)
• The

Lord of the Rings
(1954–1955)
• The

Silmarillion (1977,
posthumously, ed.
Christopher Tolkien)

The Inklings

Four of our seven sages
belonged to the Inklings, a group of literary men that grew out of C. S. Lewis’s
circle of friends. They took the name, a
pun on “people who dabble in ink,” from
a club of undergraduates that had gone
defunct. Our image of men in tweeds
discussing ideas in front of a roaring
fire, perhaps with a pint in hand, is not
far from the mark. They met on Tuesdays
in local pubs and (until 1949) on Thursday evenings to read their works to each
other in Lewis’s rooms at Magdalen College. Not exclusively Oxford academics,
the group included professional people
such as Lewis’s brother, Warren, a retired
British Army officer. (With Lewis, second
from the right above, are James DundasGrant, Colin Hardie, Robert “Humphrey”
Havard, and Peter Havard.)
Lewis described members as Christians with a “tendency to write.” Their
diversity was epitomized in friendly
opposition between Lewis and Barfield,
called by Lewis a “perpetual dog-fight,”
but they also criticized and encouraged
each other’s work (see Timeline, pp.
26–27). Tolkien, who made no secret of the
fact that he would never have completed
The Lord of the Rings without Lewis’s
encouragement, acknowledged his debt
to the Inklings in a heart-felt dedication.
The group met from the 1930s
through the 1950s. Much of the mutual
influence through conversation was
informal even as it was influential.
Sparse accounts of more “literaryminded” meetings have come down
to us in letters, diaries, and memories,
giving us tantalizing glimpses of what
it must have been like to spend an
evening fireside with the Inklings.
—Colin Duriez

Issue 11325

The Christian History Timeline

So great a cloud of witnesses
Some connections and influences among the seven sages

— Chesterton read
MacDonald at a young
age and said he counted
him as one of the three
or four greatest literary
men of the nineteenth
century. He served as
chairman of events at
MacDonald’s 100th
birthday celebration
in 1924.
— Lewis recommended
MacDonald’s “Unspoken
Sermons” to a number of
correspondents and said
MacDonald was “consistently closer to the Spirit
of Christ” than anyone
else he knew of. He used
him as a guide character in his Great Divorce.
Reading MacDonald’s
Phantastes was highly
influential in Lewis’s
conversion.
— Williams included one of
MacDonald’s poems in
an anthology for Oxford
University Press.
— Barfield praised
MacDonald’s writing,
and Tolkien enjoyed
his stories.

26

—S
 ayers and Chesterton
helped found the Detection Club in 1929, a group
of mystery writers of
which Chesterton was
the first president. She
once wrote: “G. K.’s books
have become more a part
of my mental make-up
than those of any writer
you could name.”
— C
 hesterton wrote to
Williams in 1935 of his
admiration for Williams’s
poetry.

Charles Williams
1886–1945
— Lewis invited Williams to
a meeting of the Inklings
(see p. 25) in 1936 after
reading his The Place of
the Lion. Williams met
regularly with the group,
including Tolkien and
Barfield, from his relocation to Oxford in 1939 until
his death.
—M
 embers of the Inklings,
especially Lewis and Tolkien, promoted Williams‘s
works and speaking
skills to their colleagues
and friends. Lewis’s That
Hideous Strength is, among
other things, an homage to
Williams‘s writings.
—S
 ayers was inspired to
translate Dante by reading
Williams, and later wrote
the famous essay “Dante
and Charles Williams.”
Williams reviewed her
novel The Nine Tailors with
great praise.

G. K. Chesterton
1874–1936

Christian History

MacDonald—Wikipedia
Chesterton—Used by permission of The Marion E. Wade Center, Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL
Tolkien—Copyright 1972, Douglas R. Gilbert. Used by permission of The Marion E. Wade Center, Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL.

George MacDonald
1824–1905

— Lewis read Chesterton’s
The Everlasting Man and
some of GKC’s essays on
his road to conversion; he
said that MacDonald baptized his imagination while
Chesterton baptized his
intellect. He quoted or
referred to him in several
later letters and books.

By Jennifer Woodruff Tait and Marjorie Lamp Mead

—C
 hesterton influenced
Sayers’s spiritual life
and writing. In fact she
attributed her decision to
fully embrace Christianity
to his books.

book spines—Used by permission of The Marion E. Wade Center, Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL
Lewis, Sayers, Williams, and Barfield headshots—Used by permission of The Marion E. Wade Center, Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL

J. R. R. Tolkien
1892–1973
— TO
 LKIEN became friends
with Lewis at Oxford in
1926. A long conversation
on Addison’s Walk in 1931
with Tolkien and Hugo
Dyson was crucial in Lewis’s conversion to Christianity. In 1936 the two made
a pact to write books on
space travel (Lewis) and
time travel (Tolkien) that
resulted in Lewis writing
his Space Trilogy. Tolkien
never finished his book,
The Lost Road.
— TO
 LKIEN joined the
Inklings, who began meeting in 1929. He interacted
regularly with Lewis—
and, in later years, with
Williams and Barfield.

—S
 ayers corresponded with
both Lewis and Williams
and joined Lewis sometimes at meetings of the
Oxford Socratic Club. Williams’s positive review of
The Nine Tailors began their
friendship. His request
that she be given the commission to write The Zeal
of Thy House for the 1937
Canterbury Festival helped
redirect her into playwriting and into exploring
themes of creativity and
work. Reading his The
Figure of Beatrice influenced
her to translate Dante.
—S
 ayers did not meet with
the all-male Inklings.
—S
 ayers contributed (along
with Tolkien, Lewis,
and Barfield) to
Essays Presented to
Charles Williams.

— TO
 LKIEN read Sayers’s
mysteries, although he did
not care for the later ones.
— TO
 LKIEN and Lewis
arranged for Williams
to give lectures at Oxford
and to obtain an honorary
Oxford M.A. (which made
Williams eligible for election to the Oxford Dante
Society). Tolkien contributed to Essays Presented to
Charles Williams, published
after Williams’s death.

— BARFIELD met with the
Inklings, although infrequently since he practiced
law in London after 1929.

C. S. Lewis
1898–1963
—W
 ritings of MacDonald
and Chesterton and
friendships with Tolkien
and Barfield were all
instrumental in Lewis’s
conversion. He was a
member of the Inklings.
Lewis became friends with
Williams in 1936 after
reading his The Place of the
Lion and he steadfastly
promoted Williams’s
writings. Lewis encouraged Tolkien to finish The
Lord of the Rings and wrote
enthusiastic reviews of
both The Hobbit and LOTR.
—B
 arfield was one of Lewis’s favorite conversation
partners and also served
as his solicitor. They were
friends from 1919 until
Lewis’s death.

—B
 ARFIELD influenced the
thought of both Lewis and
Tolkien, giving Lewis
an abiding respect for the
past and changing the
way Tolkien understood
and taught the history of
language (for more see
“The forgotten Inkling,”
pp. 46–49).
— L ewis was godfather to
Barfield’s daughter, Lucy,
and dedicated The Lion, the
Witch, and the Wardrobe to
her and The Voyage of the
Dawn Treader to Barfield’s
foster son, Jeffrey. Lucy
Pevensie may be based on
Lucy Barfield. Barfield’s
writings on his friend have
been collected into Owen
Barfield on C. S. Lewis.
—B
 ARFIELD contributed
(along with Tolkien,
Sayers, and Lewis) to
Essays Presented to Charles
Williams.

— Lewis corresponded with
Sayers and offered
critiques (solicited) on
her works. He read her
play cycle, The Man Born
to Be King, every year in
Holy Week for decades
and wrote a eulogy for her
memorial service.

Dorothy L. Sayers
1893–1957

—L
 ewis contributed to
Essays Presented to Charles
Williams.

Owen Barfield
1898–1997

Issue 11327

By Matt Forster

Readers
familiar with the golden
age of detective fiction
(1920s–1930s) rank Sayers’s urbane protagonist, Lord Peter Wimsey, among the era’s
great fictional sleuths.
Sayers wrote 11 Wimsey books, beginning
with Whose Body?, but
her literary output
extended past wellcrafted whodunits.
One of the first women to be awarded
a degree from Oxford, Dorothy Leigh
Sayers began her adult life writing poetry
and teaching, until she found her way to
advertising copywriting in 1922. She is
still remembered for jingles for brewer
Guinness (including “Guinness is good
for you”) and for coining the phrase, “It
pays to advertise!”
Sayers helped found the Detection
Club, a group of mystery writers who discussed the ins and outs of the craft; G. K.
Chesterton was its first president. In the
1930s Sayers turned to playwriting and
was commissioned to write a groundbreaking series of plays on the life of
Christ for BBC Radio. A lifelong Anglican,
she reluctantly also took up lay apologetics, penning calls to authentic Christianity
like Creed or Chaos? (1940). She considered
her translation of Dante’s Divine Comedy,
with commentary highlighting Christian
themes, one of her greatest accomplishments, but died before finishing Paradise,
the third volume.
• Born June 13, 1893, Oxford, England
• Died December 17, 1957, Witham,
England
• Married Oswald Atherton
“Mac” Fleming (m. 1926)
• Children: John Anthony (from a relationship Sayers had in the early 1920s)
• Selected Works
• Peter

Wimsey novels from Whose Body?
to Busman’s Honeymoon (1921–1931)
• The

Mind of the Maker (1941)
• The

Man Born to Be King (1941)
• Dante’s

Divine Comedy (trans. 1949–
1962, completed by Barbara Reynolds)

28

C. S. Lewis

Clive Staples Lewis
(known as “Jack” to his
friends) was born in Ireland
in 1898. He fought in the
World War I trenches and
was wounded. At Oxford he
studied Greek and Latin literature, philosophy, ancient history, and English. In 1925 he
became a fellow and tutor in
English literature at Oxford’s
Magdalen College.
Though raised in a
Christian home, as a young
boy Lewis embraced atheism. But, as he described in
his autobiography, Surprised
by Joy, God’s pursuit of him
eventually led to his acceptance of theism in 1929
and Christianity in 1931.
Books such as Chesterton’s
The Everlasting Man and
MacDonald’s Phantastes, and
conversations with friends
such as Tolkien, Barfield, and
H. V. D. Dyson (all of whom
would one day be members
of the Inklings) helped him
rediscover faith. He returned
to his childhood Anglicanism.
L ew i s’s academic work
revolved around his scholarly interest in the late Middle
Ages, but his prolific output was hardly limited to the
subjects he taught at Oxford.
His first published work
of fiction was The Pilgrim’s
Regress, a Christian allegory.

This was followed by the
“Space Trilogy,” The Screwtape
Letters, The Great Divorce, and
the Chronicles of Narnia—all
with undeniably Christian
themes. During World War
II, he gave a series of BBC
radio addresses on the essentials of the Christian faith,
later adapted into a classic of
Christian apologetics, Mere
Christianity.
Late in life Lewis met
Joy Davidman, an American
divorcee with two sons. As
friends, they married in a civil
ceremony so that Davidman
could continue to live in
England when denied a visa.
But the relationship deepened, and after Joy developed
bone cancer, they obtained a
Christian marriage. When
Joy died Lewis chronicled
his experience of bereavement
in A Grief Observed.
Lewis died on November
22, 1963, his passing overshadowed by the assassination of John F. Kennedy on the
same day.
•B
 orn November 29, 1898,
Belfast, Ireland
•D
 ied November 22, 1963,
Oxford, England
•M
 arried Joy Davidman
(m. 1956)
• Children: Stepfather
to David and Douglas
Gresham
• Selected Works
• The Pilgrim’s Regress (1933)
• The Allegory of Love (1936)
• Out of the Silent Planet (1938)
• Perelandra (1943)
• That Hideous Strength (1945)
• The Problem of Pain (1940)
• The Screwtape Letters (1942)
• The Chronicles of Narnia
(1950–1956)
• Mere Christianity (1952)
• Surprised by Joy (1955)
• The Discarded Image (1964)

Christian History

Sayers with skull—Used by permission of The Marion E. Wade Center, Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL
Lewis—Used by permission of The Marion E. Wade Center, Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL

Dorothy L. Sayers

Williams—Used by permission of The Marion E. Wade Center, Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL
Barfield—With permission of the Owen Barfield Literary Estate

Charles Williams

Educated for a time at
University College London,
Charles Walter Stansby Williams left school for financial
reasons before obtaining a
degree. From this inauspicious start, he eventually
found himself as a proofreading assistant for Oxford Un iversit y Press. He took
the position in 1908 and for
nearly four decades continued to rise through the ranks,
his remarkable tenure ending
only on the occasion of his
early death in 1945.
Williams’s literary output was impressively diverse:
poetry on Arthurian themes,
numerous plays, literary criticism (especially The Figure
of Beatrice, a study of Dante),
biographies, and theology. He
is perhaps best known for his
fiction—a collection of supernatural fantasy thrillers set in
the contemporary world. His
works are filled with ghosts,
demons, magic-wielding relics such as a pack of Tarot
cards and the Holy Grail,

and Platonic archetypes. Like
Sayers, Williams was a lifelong Anglican. His works of
Christian theology include He
Came Down from Heaven and
The Descent of the Dove.
Mutual admiration between
Williams and C. S. Lewis,
along with the relocation
of Oxford University Press
off ices to Oxford duri ng
World War II, led to Williams’s
participation in the Inklings.
On his death, Warren Lewis
(C. S. Lewis’s brother) wrote:
“There will be no more pints
with Charles: no more ‘Bird
and Baby’ [their favorite pub]:
the blackout has fallen, and
the Inklings can never be the
same again.”
• Born September 20, 1886,
London, England
• Died May 15, 1945, Oxford,
England
• Married Florence “Michal”
Conway (m. 1917)
• Children: Michael
• Selected Works
• War in Heaven (1930)
• Many Dimensions (1930)
• The Place of the Lion (1931)
• The Greater Trumps (1932)
• Shadows of Ecstasy (1933)
• Descent into Hell (1937)
• He

Came Down from
Heaven (1938)
• The

Descent of the Dove
(1939)
• The Figure of Beatrice (1943)
• All Hallows’ Eve (1945)

Owen Barfield

For more than four decades,
C. S. Lewis and Owen Barfield argued
and debated as friends. Barfield graduated from Wadham College, Oxford, with
a degree in English literature in 1920 and
became a poet and author. During this
period he heard a lecture by Rudolf Steiner
and became an anthroposophist (see definition in “The forgotten Inkling,” pp.
46–49). Though baptized as an Anglican
in middle age, he also maintained anthroposophical beliefs until his death. Many of
his books blend history and philosophy.
His most famous, Saving the Appearances,
details his idea of the evolution of consciousness. His novel Worlds Apart depicts
a fictional dialogue about belief between a
physicist, a biologist, a theologian, a philosopher, a psychiatrist, a teacher, a rocket
scientist, and a lawyer. Several appear to
be based on members of the Inklings.
Barfield continued writing throughout his life, but in 1934 began a 25-year
career in law, working as a solicitor in
London. He was Lewis’s solicitor and
trustee, managing his friend’s sizable
gifts to charity.
•B
 orn November 9, 1898, London,
England
•D
 ied December 14, 1997, Forest Row,
England
• Married Maud Douie (m. 1923)
• Children: Alexander and Lucy; fostered Jeffrey (Corbett) Barfield
• Selected Works
• History in English Words (1926)
• Poetic Diction (1928)
• Romanticism Comes of Age (1944)
• Saving

the Appearances (1957)
• Worlds Apart (1963)
• Owen Barfield on C. S. Lewis (1989)

Issue 11329

Learning what no one
meant to teach
C. S. Lewis’s educational experiences

“I was at four schools and learnt nothing at three
of them.”
Thus Lewis spoke of his education during the
period 1908 to 1914, between the ages of 9 (when he
ceased being homeschooled) and 15 (when he began
to be privately tutored). Even if we allow for hyperbole, it was still a damning verdict on the education
he received during some of his most formative years.
Much has been written about Lewis’s time studying
under his tutor, retired school headmaster William T.
Kirkpatrick (the famed “Great Knock” of Surprised by
Joy). But Lewis had much to say about his education
prior to Kirkpatrick as well.
Lewis attended four schools as a boy: Wynyard
School, Campbell College, Cherbourg House, and
Malvern College. The worst was Wynyard, presided
over by madman Robert Capron. Campbell College
had Lewis on its roll for only a single term. He detested
Malvern College for its emphasis on athletics and for
its “fagging” system, where junior boys were little better than slaves to their seniors. Cherbourg House was
the only institution that Lewis remembered warmly.
Enrolled there from 1911 to 1913, he flourished under the
excellent guidance of its headmaster, Arthur C. Allen.
But this positive experience was the exception: the rest

30

of Lewis’s formal schooling was evidently dismal, as
opposed to the hours he spent in breaks and summers
browsing his family’s well-stocked bookshelves.

reading, writing, and solidarity
Lewis was an unusually clever boy, and clever boys are
apt to kick against the constraints of large educational
systems geared to the needs and reach of the average.
Perhaps the three schools he condemned would not
have seemed quite so dreadful to a student of more
regular abilities. And perhaps we might also assume
that, because Lewis’s abilities were so astonishingly
advanced, he would have intellectually survived almost
any pedagogical sausage-factory, however terrible.
This was not his own view, though. Of Wynyard
School he wrote in Surprised by Joy: “If the school had
not died, and if I had been left there two years more,
it would probably have sealed my fate as a scholar
for good.” Indeed, even the most brilliant mind cannot escape all the negative effects of a hopelessly bad
education. For Lewis schools needed to be held to the
highest standard conceivable.
Wynyard School was the polar opposite of the
ideal of good schooling. It closed because of a lawsuit brought against the headmaster, Robert Capron.

Christian History

Lewis at writing desk—Used by permission of The Marion E. Wade Center, Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL

Michael Ward

answering fan mail? Left: Lewis
works at his desk at home in Oxford. His
home was called “The Kilns” because it
was built on the site of a brickworks.

Room under the rafters—Tricia Porter, with permission from the C. S. Lewis Foundation
Young Lewis 1904—Used by permission of The Marion E. Wade Center, Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL

the boy who imagined a world
Right: Lewis (pictured below as a young
boy) spent hours creating the world of
Boxen with his brother, Warnie, in an attic
room at their childhood home, re-created
here in the Kilns’s attic, complete with
wardrobe.

A cruel man who flogged the boys mercilessly, he was eventually put under
restraint, certified insane, and lived out
his remaining days in a lunatic asylum.
Lewis, though never personally the target of Capron’s brutality, struggled for
years to forgive him.
But one good thing came out of
Lewis’s time at Wynyard: Capron’s rule
was so vile that all the boys stood solidly against it.
There were no sneaks or tattle-tales. Lewis wrote later
that Capron was “against his will, a teacher of honour
and a bulwark of freedom.” The boys would not have
so successfully understood the importance of resisting
tyranny if it had been Capron’s intention to teach that
lesson. Truly the lesson learned was an accidental byproduct of “a wicked old man’s desire to make as much
as he could out of deluded parents and to give as little
as he could in return.”
Lewis wished to emphasize that teachers teach
without knowing it, and one can never predict the
effects with total accuracy. While we are making our
schools as excellent as possible, he would argue, we
also need to remember our ignorance on this point,
and maintain a proper humility about our role in raising the next generation. There is a modern tendency
among parents, teachers, and governments to try to
devise a fool-proof pedagogy, the perfect “educational
machine,” as Lewis calls it in “Lilies That Fester.”
And this machine, though meant as a way of
avoiding certain risks, can itself be very dangerous.
It can easily squelch those whom it would instruct.
Lewis wrote:
The educational machine seizes [the pupil] very
early and organizes his whole life, to the exclusion
of all unsuperintended solitude or leisure. The
hours of unsponsored, uninspected, perhaps even
forbidden, reading, the ramblings, and the “long,
long thoughts” in which those of luckier generations first discovered literature and nature and
themselves are a thing of the past. If a Traherne
or a Wordsworth were born to-day he would be
“cured” before he was twelve.
The child who engages in forbidden reading may
actually be teaching himself something of great value,

Lewis suggested—a lesson
he had learned well from
his own unsupervised
reading in childhood.
The burnt hand teaches
best, he argued: parents and teachers must
not over-protect their
charges. Though it
seems like a kindness to wrap a child
in cotton-wool, it is in
the end unwise, for the child must
learn to stand on his or her own feet one day. The longer that day is needlessly delayed, the likelier it is that
the child will be overwhelmed when it finally comes.

seeking the truth

The convent schoolgirl who goes off the rails as soon as
she has her liberty is all too familiar a figure. A “fugitive and cloistered virtue,” as Milton observed, is really
no virtue at all. Lewis put it this way in a letter to his
former pupil Dom Bede Griffiths:
The process of living seems to consist in coming to realise truths so ancient and simple that,
if stated, they sound like barren platitudes. They
cannot sound otherwise to those who have not
had the relevant experience: that is why there is
no real teaching of such truths possible and every
generation starts from scratch.
By “no real teaching,” Lewis meant no direct,
immediate, inescapable teaching. Since the pupil is a
live and independent human being, not a machine, you
cannot teach him or her exactly what you would like;
students learn in their own way and in their own time.
We all know that you can lead a horse to water and not

Issue 11331

A dorm or a prison? Left: At Malvern College
Lewis hated the “fagging” system where older
boys treated younger ones as their servants.

make it drink; but even horses that do drink, drink as
deeply as they choose and in muddy parts of the river
as well as in clear.
Like seventeenth-century poet Traherne and
nineteenth-century poet Wordsworth to whom he
referred in “Lilies That Fester,” Lewis counted himself one of the lucky ones given space to breathe and
grow in his educational upbringing. For the first nine
years of his life, he was taught at home, untrammelled
by the impersonal “educational machine.” And for the
six years of his schooling, he had considerable independence during vacations. During these times he had free
rein of his parents’ bookshelves. They contained
. . . books of all kinds reflecting every transient
stage of my parents’ interests, books readable
and unreadable, books suitable for a child and
books most emphatically not. Nothing was
forbidden me. In the seemingly endless rainy
afternoons I took volume after volume from
the shelves. I had always the same certainty of
finding a book that was new to me as a man
who walks into a field has of finding a new
blade of grass.
Lewis was free to make his own mistakes and to
bear the honorable burden of suffering their consequences, a freedom that Lewis thought could easily be
curtailed in a risk-averse modern culture.
He was especially alive to the fact that freedom
could be curtailed most damagingly by elites: smart
people’s pretensions to wisdom are always the highest,
putting too much stock in educational systems they created or endorsed. When it comes to bringing up a child,
Lewis opined in one letter, “Perhaps the uneducated
do it best.” The reason? “They don’t attempt to replace
Providence” in shaping their destinies. Instead of thinking they can work out a plan that will infallibly secure
their children’s educational futures, less ambitious
parents “just carry on from day to day on ordinary principles of affection, justice, veracity, and humour.”

32

In a letter to Mary Willis Shelburne, who was
complaining about insufficient religious education
(without Shelburne’s side of the correspondence we do
not know the full context), Lewis wrote this refreshingly relaxed advice:
About the lack of religious education: of course
you must be grieved, but remember how much
religious education has exactly the opposite
effect to that which was intended, how many
hard atheists come from pious homes. . . . Parents
are not Providence: their bad intentions may be
frustrated as their good ones. Perhaps prayers
as a secret indulgence which Father disapproves
may have a charm they lacked in houses where
they were commanded.
Just as Capron unwittingly taught Lewis and his
confreres to be “solid” and not to tell tales, so the

Christian History

Lewis’s dorm at malvern— Copyright 1972, Douglas R. Gilbert
Malvern doorway— Copyright 1972, Douglas R. Gilbert

A door in or out? Below: Lewis wrote of his
time at Malvern, “In some boys’ lives everything
was calculated to the great end of advancement.
For this games were played; for this clothes,
friends, amusements, and vices were chosen.”

god came in Right: Lewis wrote this poem about Addison’s
Walk at Magdalen College, Oxford, where he had learned
many things, including some that led to his conversion.

enemies of religion might teach a child the allure
of prayer.
In correspondence with his American friend Vera
Gebbert, Lewis’s skepticism about the extent of human
control came fully to the forefront. He talked of “the
educational gamble,” admitting that “very few of us
get a really good education, whether in England or
America,” and expressing a surety that “if fate had sent
you to one of our ‘good’ girl’s schools, you would have
found quite a few holes in your stock of learning when
you had finished.” And then he made the statement we
began with: “I was at four schools, and learnt nothing
at three of them.” He went on: “But on the other hand
I was lucky in having a first class tutor after my father
had given up the school experiment in despair.”
And yet this first-class tutor, William Kirkpatrick,
was a confirmed and rigorous atheist! That Lewis
should not have become permanently an atheist himself due to his otherwise hugely influential relationship
with Kirkpatrick reinforces yet again his point: parents
are not Providence, and teachers are not fate:
While we are planning the education of the
future we can be rid of the illusion that we shall
ever replace destiny. Make the plans as good
as you can, of course. But be sure that the deep
and final effect on every single [child] will be

something you never envisaged and will spring
from little free movements in your machine
which neither your blueprint nor your working
model gave any hint of. CH
Dr. Michael Ward is Senior Research Fellow at Blackfriars Hall, University of Oxford, and professor of apologetics
at Houston Baptist University, Texas. He is the author of
Planet Narnia: The Seven Heavens in the Imagination
of C. S. Lewis and co-editor of The Cambridge Companion to C. S. Lewis.

Dorothy Sayers’s surprise educational legacy

Lewis plaque Addison’s Walk—Tricia Porter

I

n 1947, as Britain was still rebuilding after World War II, Dorothy Sayers gave a talk at Oxford University
titled “The Lost Tools of Learning.” She
argued in that talk that the educational
system was failing at what should be its
primary goal: teaching children to learn.
She called for a return to a model of
teaching found in medieval universities,
the “Trivium.”
Derived from ancient Greek philosophers, the Trivium focused on three
areas—grammar, dialectic, and rhetoric. These subjects involved learning a
language, learning how to construct an
argument, and learning how to express
one’s self in that language. It was on this
foundation, she argued, that all other
learning must be built.
The talk may have been a bit radical,
though her Oxford-educated audience

was likely agreeable to her ideas. But
few in attendance could have anticipated the effect the speech would
have on Christian education in the
United States.
The idea of reviving classical education was not the sole property of Sayers,
but her name became explicitly tied to
the American homeschool movement
when Douglas Wilson—controversial
writer and pastor from Moscow, Idaho—
published Recovering the Lost Tools of
Learning based on her ideas in 1991. The
book came out just as homeschooling
hit the mainstream. With many parents exploring new ways to teach their
children, the promise of classical education from a Christian perspective was
very appealing.
In subsequent years Sayers’s ideas
have evolved into a full-blown Christian

classical education movement. It emphasizes reading great works of Western
literature, learning Greek and Latin,
and peering into every subject through
a Christian lens.
Any number of books espouse the
model today; more than a few associations and organizations have been
formed to advocate it; and across the
country private schools have been established to offer parents a way for their
children to receive a “classical” education.
Parents who homeschool have their
choice of fully articulated classical curricula from many publishers. When they
are ready for classical college coursework, schools such as Patrick Henry
College in Purcellville, Virginia, and St.
John’s College in Annapolis, Maryland,
are waiting to review their applications.
—Matt Forster

Issue 11333

Transcending ourselves
C. S. Lewis on learning
David C. Downing

34

a well-read man Lewis’s desk at the Kilns is intended
to look as it did in the 1940s as he composed works like
The Screwtape Letters and The Great Divorce.

ambitious undertaking, trying to engender in students
“good taste and good feeling,” to cultivate their aesthetic
and moral sensibilities, and to fit them for public service.
Lewis thought a truly educated person should have
some facility with logic and reasoning, with social
behavior and civil discourse, as well as an acquaintance
with the literature, both sacred and secular, which forms
a culture’s legacy and its sense of community. This view
of education explicitly includes a moral component.

Men and women with chests

As Lewis explained more fully in The Abolition of Man,
humans cannot make sound value judgments based
either upon their needs alone or their reasoning alone.
According to the classical model, humans have a
head (reason) and a belly (appetites)—but in between is
the chest, the seat of “magnaminity “or “emotions organized by trained habits into stable sentiments,” where
fairness, generosity, and high-mindedness grow.
Lewis called these “the indispensable liaison officers between cerebral [head] and visceral [belly] man.”
He called that “chest” a defining trait of humans, for
by intellect humans are mere spirit and by appetites

Christian History

Kilns’s common room—Tricia Porter, with permission from the C. S. Lewis Foundation

When an american teenager explained
to C. S. Lewis in a fan letter the American system of
education—accumulating course credits—Lewis’s letter in response expressed amazement at measuring a
student’s education by hours spent in the classroom:
What a droll idea in Florida, to give credits not for
what you know but for hours spent in a classroom!
Rather like judging the condition of an animal not
by its weight or shape but by the amount of food
that had been offered it!
He viewed education primarily in terms of what
was happening in the minds and lives of the students,
not in terms of what is now referred to as “seat time.” In
fact, he continued by giving the teenager advice about
her own creative writing endeavors: “A story about
Caesar in Gaul sounds very promising.”
While Lewis’s letters are full of such gems, his fullest
discussion of education comes in his essay “Our English
Syllabus” in Rehabilitations (1939). There he made a
three-tiered distinction between training, education, and
learning. Training is vocational; it prepares the student for
work. It is not intended to produce “a good man,” but
simply “a good banker [or] a good electrician.”
Education has much broader goals, defined by John
Milton as preparing the student “to perform justly,
skillfully, and magnanimously all the offices both public and private, of peace and war.” This is a much more

Addison’s walk—Tricia Porter
Radcliffe Camera—Tricia Porter

they are mere animal. A part of every education, then,
should be to instruct students in the proper “stock
responses,” to teach them to admire courage and selflessness, to value life, and to keep watch on their own
natural penchant for dishonesty or pride.
Lewis added that a well-rounded citizen should be
both “interesting and interested,” not a mere receptacle
of facts, but someone with an active intellectual curiosity who can enter into discussion and make meaningful
contributions.
This last trait led to what Lewis actually called
learning, which he saw as far beyond education as education is beyond training. If training prepares one for
work, and education prepares one to be a well-rounded
human being, learning is simply a desire to know, to
expand the frontiers of one’s own understanding.
For Lewis, the ultimate natural end of human life
was not work, but rather “the leisured activities of
thought, art, literature, [and] conversation.” He added
that he called this the natural end of human life because
life’s ultimate purpose must be sought in the supernatural source of our being.
Lewis considered the thirst for knowledge, like the
possession of a “chest,” to be a uniquely human trait:
“Man is the only amateur animal; all the others are
professionals.” That is, humans can pursue learning for
the mere love of knowledge, while lower animals stick
to the business of survival and propagation. As Lewis
whimsically concluded: “When God made the beasts
dumb He saved the world from infinite boredom, for if
they could speak, they would all of them, all day, talk
nothing but shop.”
Though most of us use the terms education and learning interchangeably, Lewis insisted on maintaining a
clear distinction. In his essay “Our English Syllabus,”

“I heard a bird sing clear” Left: Addison’s Walk is
still a place of peace and contemplation.
“what do i most want to know?” Right: The Radcliffe Camera, a reading room at the Bodleian Library,
Oxford, symbolized learning to several of our sages.

he went so far as to say, “A school without pupils would
cease to be a school; a college without undergraduates
would be as much a college as ever, would perhaps be
more a college.” (That is, faculty and alumni would still
pursue scholarship for its own sake.)

a college with no students?

To those familiar with American higher education, the
idea of a college without undergraduates might produce
a shudder, a sign of an institution shuttered and in ruin.
We associate learning for its own sake with graduate
study at large research universities—usually those with
government grants in the natural sciences. But Lewis
insisted that for every first-year student entering college,
the proper question should not be “What will do me the
most good?” but rather “What do I most want to know?”
Some have argued that Lewis’s emphasis upon the
pursuit of knowledge instead of job training, or even
general education, is elitist or obsolete—that it simply doesn’t apply to today’s world of daunting college
tuitions and dwindling career opportunities. But Lewis
would counter that learning always has the important by-product of education. In seeking to expand
our knowledge, we learn how to learn, developing the
skills we will need both for careers and for the wider
demands of family and community.
Just as those who participate in sports to win will
get vigorous exercise and improved health, those who

Issue 11335

on the reading of old books

Another by-product of the pursuit of learning, Lewis
thought, is overcoming the limits we place on ourselves.
Few students will tackle a thick book simply
because they want to “broaden their minds.” But
by taking interest in a variety of subjects, cultivating and satisfying intellectual curiosity, they will
find that wide reading in the end has just that effect.
In his essay “On the Reading of Old Books” (in God
in the Dock), Lewis argued that every generation is
parochial, with prejudices and blind spots that earlier generations would have deplored and later ones
expose.
Reading only contemporary books, perhaps in
preparation for a career or knowledge of current
events, will leave one prisoner to the “Zeitgeist,” the
spirit of the age that dominates one’s own generation.
Partly because of his own wide reading in books both
ancient and modern, Lewis correctly predicted that
two of the most dominant thinkers of his age—Freud
and Marx—would greatly recede in influence in later
generations. (His critiques of both are in The Pilgrim’s
Regress [1933].)
Christians should also not be reluctant to meet
their fellow believers from the past: “This mistaken
preference for the modern books and this shyness
of the old ones is nowhere more rampant than in
theology. Wherever you find a little study circle of
Christian laity you can be almost certain that they
are studying not St. Luke or St. Paul or St. Augustine
or Thomas Aquinas or Hooker or Butler, but M.
Berdyaev or M. Maritain or M. Niebuhr or Miss
Sayers or even myself.”

36

teacher of thousands Above: Americans came to
know Lewis through Screwtape and the Narnian books.
Above left: This famous cover of TIME profiled him in an
article titled “Don vs. Devil.”

Lewis argued that, at the very least, one should read
one old book for every new one. He added that “Great
Books” are usually more accessible in the original texts
than in contemporary summaries or commentaries.
Part of the greatness of Plato or Augustine is that they
could express their seminal ideas more clearly and eloquently in their own words than can their myriads of
interpreters. (The same, incidentally, is true of Lewis
himself!)
Finally, apart from escaping the limited mindset
of one’s own era, the pursuit of learning for its own
sake contributes more broadly to what Lewis calls
“an enlargement of our being.” In An Experiment in
Criticism, Lewis described the study of great works of
literature, but his observation applies to a wide variety of texts:
We want to see with other eyes, to imagine with
other imaginations, to feel with other hearts, as
well as our own. . . .This process can be described
either as an enlargement or as a temporary annihilation of the self. But that is an old paradox; “he
that loseth his life shall save it.”
As he concludes the same book:
In reading great literature I become a thousand
men and yet remain myself. . . . Here, as in worship,
in moral action, and in knowing, I transcend myself;
and am never more myself than when I do. CH
David C. Downing is R. W. Schlosser Professor of English, Elizabethtown College (PA), and author of many books
on Lewis including Looking for the King: An Inklings
Novel.

Christian History

Lewis on the Time cover—Used by permission of The Marion E. Wade Center, Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL
Narnia books—Ron Block

learn for the love of knowledge will gain other skills
and benefits. In the same way, those who pursue such
ends for their own sake may soon lose their motivation.

Zeal of Thy House 1937 production—Used by permission of The Marion E. Wade Center, Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL

A Christian
revolutionary?

Dorothy L. Sayers wanted to see Christ as Lord over everything from theater to economics

Suzanne Bray
In the early to mid-twentieth century, the
world was in crisis. The consequences of World
War I had been economically disastrous. Politically the unsatisfactory peace settlement in 1919
led to the emergence of totalitarian regimes in Italy,
Spain, and Germany, led by men whose names
have echoed through the decades: Franco, Mussolini, Hitler. By 1939 the arrival of new conflict was
hardly a surprise.
Meanwhile the church in Western Europe stood
firmly on the defensive. Although several revival
movements had brought new enthusiasm, in general Christianity felt its influence over mainstream
intellectual life, government, and the arts slipping away. C. S. Lewis summed up the dominant
religious belief of the time as being not genuine
Christianity, but “a vague theism with a strong and
virile ethical code.”

the divine absence In Sayers’s play The Zeal of Thy
House (1937), God could not appear on stage: four angels
spoke his messages.

This lack of influence was partly the church’s own
fault. Christianity and the arts often seemed at odds.
W. E. Yeats, born in 1865, noted that when he was young,
“there were as many religious poets as love poets,” but
that by the turn of the century, poets were no longer
interested in religion. Lord David Cecil (Oxford professor and a member of the Inklings), when trying to
find poems for The Oxford Book of Christian Verse, concluded that Christians were no longer writing poetry.
You wouldn’t find them in the theater either, especially
since it had been illegal in Britian since the early seventeenth century to represent any of the three persons
of the Trinity on stage. The bishop of Oxford in the late
nineteenth century forbade all priests in his diocese,

Issue 11337

DETECTING CHRIST
William Temple, future archbishop of Canterbury, and
George Bell, bishop of Chichester, played their parts in
this midcentury recovery of Christian relevance, but
lay Christian writers involved in the fallen world on a
daily basis proved even more capable of thinking outside the ecclesiastical box. Perhaps the most surprising
of these was Sayers, the daughter of a clergyman and a
writer of best-selling detective novels.
Not only was she the only high-profile woman in
a church completely dominated by men, but she was
also eccentric, was married to a divorced man, and had
borne a child out of wedlock. Yet she played a leading
role in the renewal of Christian drama and applied her
knowledge of the Bible and the creeds to the problems
of her generation. In so doing she proclaimed a genuine
Christian approach to art and voiced a powerful theology of work.

38

from detection to theology Left: The invitation
to write The Zeal of Thy House for the 1937 Canterbury
Festival changed Sayers’s vocational direction.
doing work well Above: Sayers watches a
rehearsal of Christ’s Emperor (1952) intently.

When Sayers was a child, the discovery that Cyrus
the Persian and King Ahasuerus could be found both in
her history books and in the Old Testament convinced
her that “history was all of a piece and the Bible was
part of it.” During the economic and political crises
of the late 1930s, according to her biographer Barbara
Reynolds, Sayers “experienced a return of the vision
she had had as a child, of the relatedness and wholeness of things. . . . Her mind focused on the central belief
of Christianity—the Incarnation—and she saw how all
else flowed from it.” In fact, three principal doctrines of
Christianity—Creation, Incarnation, and the Trinity—
came together in her mind to throw light on her world
and the problems of her age.
Sayers had not published anything with a
religious theme since some early poems, but was recommended by Charles Williams to the organizers of
the Canterbury Festival as a potential author for their
1937 festival play (see “So great a cloud of witnesses,”
pp. 26–27). She accepted the commission, as well as the
suggestion to write about William of Sens, an architect
who rebuilt the choir section of Canterbury Cathedral
after a twelfth-century fire.
The play, The Zeal of Thy House, continued Sayers’s
reflections on vocation and professional integrity
from her novel Gaudy Night (1935), but in a specifically
Christian context. At its end Archangel Michael invited

Christian History

Canterbury Festival program—Used by permission of The Marion E. Wade Center, Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL
Sayers at play rehearsal—Used by permission of The Marion E. Wade Center, Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL

including Dorothy L. Sayers’s father, Henry, to attend
theatrical performances. (Lewis Carroll, a colleague of
Henry’s, resisted becoming a priest for this very reason.)
Many believers thought, as Sayers explained in
1941, that “the Church of Christ should live within
the world as a self-contained community . . . offering neither particular approval of, nor opposition to,
those departments of human activity . . . summed up
in the words ‘civilisation’ and ‘the state.’ Christians
who were both in the world and of it had, she said,
become “involved in the state machinery,” identifying themselves with fallible and sinful regimes
and coming under the same judgment. Both of these
were defensive postures. Sayers was ready to go on
the offensive.

Sayers imitating Sir Hugh P. Allen—Used by permission of The Marion E. Wade Center, Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL

Look, I’m acting Above: Dorothy Sayers as a college
student (dressed in shirt and tie on the left) imitates
Hugh P. Allen, director of the Bach Choir at Oxford.

the audience to praise God the Creator, declaring that
every work made by human creation is “threefold, an
earthly trinity to match the heavenly.” The “Creative
Idea” existed from the beginning in the maker’s mind;
the “Creative Energy,” through work, enabled the idea
to become incarnate in the material world; and the
“Creative Power” transformed and inspired those who
encountered the work.
This ambitious theme launched Sayers into the
world of theology. Articles on Christian doctrine she
wrote for the Sunday Times as publicity for the play
attracted the attention of church leaders. For the next
few years, Sayers’s work took her in three directions:
presenting the Incarnation of Christ to the general
public through drama; exploring a Christian understanding of the arts; and applying Christian doctrines
to economic and employment issues, advancing a specifically Christian view of society.

putting jesus on stage
Although the Canterbury play succeeded with critics
and the public, the ban on putting God on the stage
forced the divine element to be portrayed by four huge
angels. Sayers was unhappy, feeling that “the device of
indicating Christ’s presence by a ‘voice off’, or by a shaft

of light, or a shadow . . . tends to suggest to people that
he was never a real person at all.”
Radio broadcasts were exempt from the regulations
governing the stage, and in 1938 Sayers was given the
opportunity to write a nativity play for the BBC. He
That Should Come included the sound of the baby Jesus
crying and struck people by its realism. As a result the
BBC asked Sayers for a series of 12 plays on the life of
Christ. She agreed on the condition that she could use
contemporary language and that Jesus would be played
realistically by an actor.
No actor had played the role of Christ in Britain
for nearly 400 years, and people only knew his words
in the archaic English of the King James Bible. But
in spite of vigorous opposition, the plays became an
overwhelming success. The BBC’s director of religious
broadcasting admitted they “revealed the poverty and
incompleteness of [his] own belief in the Incarnation.”
Many others credited Sayers with helping them
believe for the first time that the Gospel stories
really happened.
Sayers also sought to explain the reasons why
the church and the arts were at odds. She wrote
that the church had “no Christian philosophy of
the Arts” and no coherent attitude toward art: it
“puritanically denounced the Arts as irreligious
and mischievous” or tried to manipulate them as a
means of propaganda, but never approached them
theologically.

Issue 113 39

faith and learning Left: Oxford always remained
central to Sayers’s imagination. Her novel Gaudy Night
climaxes atop the Radcliffe Camera, seen here through the
windows of the University Church of St. Mary the Virgin.

Sayers set a new course in her
most original book, The Mind of
the Maker, where art is seen as a
form of creation by humans created in the image of the Creator
God, exploring her trinitarian
analogy of the nature of artistic creation (Idea, Energy, and
Power). The work of art, like the Holy
Spirit, goes out into the world with the power to inspire
and transform.
She applied this understanding of humanity’s
God-given creativity not only to the arts but also to
all secular work, saying, “man is most godlike and
most himself when he is occupied in creation,” and,
“every man should do the work for which he is fitted
by nature” to find satisfaction in the work done and not
just work because he needs money to live.

talking about a revolution

The church tended to imply that clergy and other
religious workers had a vocation while everyone
else just “worked.” Sayers recognized and preached
that humans could be called to serve God in their
secular work. In December 1940 the leaders of the
British churches included in a set of “ten points for
peace” the idea that “the sense of Divine vocation
must be restored to man’s daily work.” This emphasis came explicitly from the 1937 Oxford World
Conference on Life and Work, but it was Sayers, not

40

official clergymen, who churches often called on to
explain this point.
Yet Sayers was of the opinion that this change in
attitude to work would be difficult in the economic
system as it was. She thought both capitalism and socialism were profoundly flawed, allowing the nature and
needs of human beings to be submitted to financial
considerations. She suggested changes she called “so
revolutionary . . . as to make all political revolutions look
like conformity” and “a radical change from top to bottom—a new system; not a mere adjustment of the old
system to favour a different set of people.”
In this system the quality and usefulness of what was made would be more
important than whether it made a profit.
The nature of the work done and its suitability for each worker’s talents would take
precedence over time-saving and salary
levels. The Christian economist would act
believing that if we seek first the Kingdom
of God and his righteousness, all other
things will be added unto us (Matt. 6:33), and
the church would no longer have to struggle
to persuade the working person to “remain
interested in a religion which seems to have
no concern with nine-tenths of his life.”
Whether in art, politics, or economics,
Sayers’s principle remained the same: “not to
try and shut out the Lord Immanuel from any sphere of
truth or activity.” If we truly believe in him, she wrote,
then whether we are involved in scientific research,
or the arts, or medicine, or industrial manufacturing,
“Christ is precisely the truth we are discovering, the
beauty we are expressing, the life we are restoring,”
and the source of all the “energy and skill we put into
these things.”
Today she would be glad to see that God may now
appear on the British stage and that Christian drama is
no longer considered shocking. At the same time, she
would be sad but not surprised to find that attitudes
toward vocation have not greatly changed since her
day. She would, if she were with us, find work at hand
yet to do. C H
Suzanne Bray is professor of English at Université Catholique
de Lille; the author of numerous books and articles on Sayers,
Lewis, and Williams; and the editor of translations of Sayers’s
works into French.

Christian History

St. Mary window—Jennifer Woodruff Tait
Mind of the Maker—Used by permission of The Marion E. Wade Center, Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL

thinking god’s thoughts Right: Tolkien’s imagination
took flight in art, as seen in his vivid rendering of “Moonlight on a Wood.”

Tolkien Moonlight on a Wood—Used by permission of The Marion E. Wade Center, Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL

“We make still by the law in
which we’re made”
S

ayers was not the only one of the
seven sages to turn her attention to the making of things. Tolkien
famously invented the distinctive term
“subcreation” for the making of a secondary, fictional world through active
human imagination. Such secondary
worlds are creatively taken from a
primary reality made by God, whose
image we bear, and was thoroughly
consistent and plausible on their own
inner terms.
Tolkien thought that subcreation is
at the heart of what he defined as “fairy
story,” and fairy story, he believed,
represents the ultimate pattern of storytelling. For him the highest function
of art is its creation of convincing secondary worlds. In such subcreation the
human maker imagines God’s world
after him, just as the early scientist
Johannes Kepler believed he was thinking God’s thoughts after him.

In one poem (addressed to C. S.
Lewis while Lewis was on the road
to conversion), Tolkien wrote of the
human power to imagine both good
and evil:
Though all the crannies of the world
we filled
with Elves and Goblins, though we dared
to build
Gods and their houses out of dark
and light
and sowed the seed of dragons, ‘twas
our right
(used or misused). The right has
not decayed.
We make still by the law in which
we’re made.
Inspired by his friend’s invention of Middle-Earth with its complex
geography, history, and languages,
eventually Lewis eagerly exercised
his own “right to subcreate” the land
of Narnia. Lewis, like Tolkien, became

convinced that, through story, the real
world becomes a more magical place,
full of meaning. We see its real pattern
and color in a fresh way—a renewed
view of reality in all its dimensions.
This applies to individual realities
like hills, rivers, and stones, as well
as to the cosmic—the depths of space
and time itself. The successful creator
of fairy story, Tolkien wrote, “makes a
Secondary World which your mind can
enter. Inside it, what he relates is ‘true’:
it accords with the laws of that world.”
In subcreating, the imagination
employs both subconscious and conscious resources of the mind. Tolkien
thought this especially true with regard
to language, which seemed to him (as it
did to Barfield) intimately connected to
the whole person, not just to the mind.
Subcreation allows powerful archetypes
and universal themes to become part of
artwork; something abstract in thought
becomes particular and definite in the
invented world.
Universal truths, especially, take
form as myths while retaining truths.
Successful fairy story also offers consolation, leading to joy, as grace given
from beyond the world is tasted.
Tolkien characteristically wrote that
“all tales may come true” because of the
subcreative link between human and
divine making.
Not only did Tolkien see the craft of
the storyteller as a gift and a blessing,
but also all skilled “making” when used
for good, whether the skillful hands and
eyes are those of humans, dwarves, or
elves. Tolkien thus celebrated the Hobbit
Sam Gamgee’s ability as a gardener and
a forester as well as a storyteller.
As Frodo tells Sam in The Lord of the
Rings’ concluding chapter: “Your hands
and your wits will be needed everywhere. You will be the Mayor, of course,
as long as you want to be, and the most
famous gardener in history; and you
will read things out of the Red Book, and
keep alive the memory of the age that is
gone, so that people will remember the
Great Danger and so love their beloved
land all the more. And that will keep you
as busy and as happy as anyone can be,
as long as your part of the Story goes on.”
—Colin Duriez

Issue 11341

The poetic vision of a
connected world
Charles Williams’s difficult works tell of self-giving love and mystical union

In 1939 a book appeared under the title The Descent
of the Dove. It was by Charles Williams, and it was a
history of the Christian Church. But it was a history
like no other history. Dedicated to “The Companions
of the Co-inherence,” it began with the cryptic motto
“This also is Thou; neither is this Thou.” Williams
claimed to be ignorant of its source but commented
provocatively: “As a maxim for living it is indispensable and it—or its reversal—summarizes the history
of the Christian Church.”
The Descent of the Dove offers a unique perspective, not simply because of its mysterious motto but
also because it was written by a poet. Poetry was
Charles Williams’s first and greatest love, a compelling and defining presence throughout his life in
whatever genre he expressed himself: fiction, drama,

42

biography, theology, history. The headstone of his
grave in Oxford bears the simple inscription “Charles
Walter Stansby Williams 1886–1945 Poet Under the
Mercy.” To readers not alert to poetry’s demands of
special attentiveness and imaginative alertness, his
writing often seems opaque and even puzzling.
Williams was not a scholar like his friends C. S.
Lewis and Dorothy L. Sayers. He was most decidedly a
man of ideas and profound intellectual convictions, but
he expressed his ideas very differently than they did.
In Lewis and Sayers we find nonfiction that presents
clear, direct philosophical or theological argument.
Williams’s prose strikes us as dense, paradoxical, full
of allusions and elusive ideas.
One of the most central of those ideas is what he
called “co-inherence” a profound interdependence

Christian History

Dove of Holy Spirit, St. Peter’s Basilica—Lisa Johnston

Brian Horne

the descent of the spirit From
novels (right) to poetry to plays,
Williams explored human and divine
relationships and the descent of the
Spirit (left)..

that Williams thought was a fundamental fact of existence. Our interdependent
life forms the reality behind the stuff of
creation and is a defining quality of God,
who as a Trinity exists in relationship.
But it was most gloriously displayed and
brought to perfection in the birth, life, death,
and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. What is true
of the inner life of the Holy Trinity became, in
the Incarnation, the ultimate form of the relationship between God and humanity.
In The Descent of the Dove, Williams named St. Paul
as the first Christian to give expression to this mystery, fastening on the statement “Bear ye one another’s
burdens” (Gal. 6:2). Williams commented, “In such
words there was defined a new state of being. A state of
redemption, of co-inherence, made by divine substitution, ‘He in us and we in Him.’”

Williams’s novels—Used by permission of The Marion E. Wade Center, Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL

“another will be in me”
Over and over again throughout the book, Williams
gave intense and delighted scrutiny to events which
demonstrate the truth of “He in us and we in Him,”
whether they form part of more traditional church
histories or not. An apparently obscure, unimportant
person or occurrence opens up a window on deep mysteries of our being.
For example, as he surveyed Christianity’s second and third centuries—a time of huge personalities,
spectacular martyrdoms, and the production of some
of the greatest works of Christian literature—Williams
focused on the relatively unknown figure of Felicitas,
an African slave-girl imprisoned in Carthage for her
faith. Felicitas is most often remembered as the slave of
Perpetua, her more famous mistress and fellow martyr
(for more on Perpetua and Felicitas, see issues 105 and
109 of Christian History).
Yet Williams saw Felicitas’s death as one of the most
significant events in the history of the church because
of one single utterance. As she faced death she cried
out: “Another will be in me who will suffer for me as I
shall suffer for him.”
This, for Williams, epitomized what is meant by
Christian co-inherence and reached deeply into the
mystery of creation and redemption. The retort of the
slave-girl to her jailers’ mockery told of mystical union
and exchange with Christ and of the corporate community felt by so many martyrs in the early church—which
led them to believe their own suffering and death had
value and reconciling power in the lives of others.

These motifs appear over and over again in different guises from the beginning to the end of Williams’s
creative life, in poems, essays, plays, theological studies, biographies—all products of an extraordinarily
unified sensibility, a creative imagination with a strikingly original vision of the meaning of life and death,
the world, and God.
Dorothy Sayers made this very point about her
friend’s writings: “[Something] which in one of the
novels or the plays may seem merely entertaining,
romantic, or fantastical” turns out to be, underneath, “some profound and challenging verity,
which in [Williams’s] theological books is submitted
to the analysis of the intellect.” The opposite is true
as well. Theological truths from his denser works
take form and action even in those books readers
are most likely to treat as entertainment: his novels.
In the last two decades of his life, Williams wrote
seven novels, now the most popular of all his creations despite the fact that he personally did not regard
them as his most important achievement. They have
been called “supernatural thrillers,” but the description hardly does justice to their profound thought and
imaginative range.
Williams always maintained that ordinary, mundane lives and actions are connected to and directed
toward supernatural ends. He saw the eternal in the
everyday, and in most of his novels dramatically portrayed moments when the familiar existence of the
material world dissolves—revealing another kind of
experience that assumes shapes of both wonder and
horror. The events are dramatic, the pace is fast, the
mysteries are intriguing, and the purpose is serious.
But in his last two novels, Descent Into Hell and All
Hallows Eve, the supernatural is no longer represented
by startling, theatrical interventions, but is woven much
more unobtrusively into ordinary, natural life. Loving

Issue 11343

drawing on the
strength of
another Right:
Felicitas’s declaration of
co-inherence with Christ
profoundly influenced
Williams’s thought.

exchange and substitution now assume center stage as
the means by which co-inherence is manifested and
becomes real.
The English poet John Heath-Stubbs once called
Williams’s last works “dark and difficult books, in
which the sense of evil has become oppressive, and
the characters pass across frontiers which separate the
living and the dead.” It is true that they are dark and
difficult and that the sense of evil is real; also that the
characters pass through space and time. But they are
realistic portrayals both of the human capacity for selfdelusion and destruction and its capacity for acts of
redemptive love.
Descent Into Hell contains one of literature’s most
convincing—and terrifying—descriptions of the
collapse into damnation (in the figure of the historian Lawrence Wentworth). But it also contains
a sublime example of the courage of substituted
love, Pauline Anstruther. Anstruther, a bewildered,
rather frightened young woman, accomplishes the
redemption of another by the offering of herself
and in so doing finds her own release from fear
and pain. Astonishingly, the one she releases is a
long-dead ancestor; the force of love moves down
time, and the pattern of co-inherent love knows no
boundaries.

crossing boundaries
Boundaries, their presence and absence, also form
the heart of Williams’s last novel. On the first page
of All Hallows Eve, we discover that the central character is dead—the young wife Lester Furnival, who
has just been killed in an air raid on London. This
audacious move gives Williams the means of exploring boundaries between the living and the dead, the
natural and the supernatural, the physical and the
metaphysical. In this novel two of the four central
characters are living, two are dead. Three persons
attain—by a process of painful, but ultimately joyful,

44

purification—to a state of redemption; one refuses
the offered grace.
Lester Furnival, like Pauline Anstruther, offers
herself in an act of love and finds that in her own
agony she is sustained by another—here quite explicitly by Christ. She has to learn another lesson too: the
meaning of “This also is Thou; neither is this Thou.”
At the border of earth and heaven, she learns that
her love for her husband, Richard, deep and real
though it has been, is not sufficient. The horizon
of heaven places that love in a new perspective. At
the close of the novel, rain falls, the quiet, cleansing
rain of purgation; symbolizing both loss and gain:
the repossession of the beloved “other” (Richard)
in a new way. It is the paradox at the heart of the
Christian Gospel (Matt. 10:39).
Such a paradox motivated the Companions of
the Co-inherence to whom Williams dedicated The
Descent of the Dove. He was always reluctant to set up

Christian History

The Christians Thrown to the Beasts by the Romans—Leullier, Louis Felix (1811–1882) / Private Collection / Photo © Bonhams, London, UK / Bridgeman Images
Williams talking—Used by permission of The Marion E. Wade Center, Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL

poet in a three-piece
suit Below: Williams’s
friends described him
as having a magnetic,
compelling personality.

city of god Williams often described Christianity

through images of friendship and exchange in human
cities. In his final novel, characters both living and dead
relate to one another in the streets of London.
any kind of society or order dedicated to his views,
but under pressure from his friends, he agreed to
do so just as the dark clouds of World War II were
gathering. It was never a formally constituted society with office holders or meetings. In formulating
its principles, he began by stating: “The Order has
no constitution except in its members.” It consisted
entirely of persons (the Companions), often unknown
to one another, who discovered in his writings certain guides for living out the Christian life.
The Companions’ principles were each paired
with a quotation from the Bible or Christian literature. One read: “[The Order] recommends
therefore the study, on the contemplative side, of
the Co-inherence of the Holy and Blessed Trinity, of
the Two natures in the single person, of the Mother
and Son, of the communicated Eucharist, and of the
whole catholic Church. As it was said: figlia et tuo figlio
[‘daughter of your son,’ a phrase from Dante about
the Virgin Mary]. And on the active side, of methods
of exchange, in the State, in all forms of love, and in
all natural things, such as child-birth. As it was said:
Bear ye one another’s burdens.”

These principles encapsulated what Williams
believed: co-inherence expressed in the practice of a
love that was a process of substitution and exchange; a
gospel brought to life by the gifts and vision of a man
for whom the poetic imagination was the surest way of
laying hold on the truth. C H
Brian Horne is chairman and librarian of the Charles Williams
Society and author of Charles Williams: A Celebration.

Was the oddest Inkling the key Inkling?

LONDON Skyline—Big STOCK PHOTOS

S

urely not. That palm must go to
Lewis or Tolkien. But in an odd
sense, it was often his agitated intellect, wildly fecund imagination, and
sheer physical energy that moved
things along. It was Williams, for
instance, who rushed in and out of the
room at The Eagle and Child fetching
ale for everyone. His electric mind
kept things humming, though often
when he read from his works, he left
the assembled company scratching
their heads.
Tolkien was not especially fond
of Williams. He maintained that he
never knew what Williams was “on”
about. But when Williams died suddenly, Tolkien had a Mass said for
him, and himself acted as server to the
priest, a noble tribute.
When he lectured, Williams would
pop about, sitting on the edge of the
desk with legs all tangled up, then
jumping off, jingling coins in his
pocket, and generally keeping things

stirred up. He did not have much in
the way of looks, but women were
magnetically attracted to him, and
he had some more-than-peculiar
associations (see his Letters to Lalage).
However, after almost 50 years of reading Williams and everything about
him, I am convinced he went to his
grave faithful in all senses to his wife,
Florence, whom he had (typically)
named “Michal”—after Saul’s daughter. Why? Because he was Williams.
Williams never stopped scribbling.
He wrote feverishly, on the backs of
envelopes, on tickets, and on any odd
slips of paper he could put his hands
on. W. H. Auden said that, when he
first tried to read Williams’s poetry, he
couldn’t make head or tail of it, but he
read Williams’s quirky history of the
church [The Descent of the Dove] once
every year.
Williams flitted about the edges
of the Roman Catholic Church like
a moth, at least in his writings; but

he lived and died an Anglican. He
loved to draw on the sumptuousness
of Catholicism for his imagery: terms
like Our Blessed Lord, Our Lady, and
the Mass. He may have had early associations with the Rosicrucians and
certainly used arcane and mystical
objects frequently. He never called
Jesus Jesus: it is Messias, usually. And
God comes on stage as “The Mercy” or
“The Omnipotence.”
Williams’s whole theme, in all
of his work, is courtesy—that is, the
courtesies fitting for citizens of the
City of God. Caritas. My life for yours.
Exchange and Substitution that pours
down from the mysteries of the Most
Holy Trinity, through the cross, to you
lending me a hand with my grocery
bags—or refusing to do so. Heaven vs.
hell, really.
Thomas Howard is the author of The
Novels of Charles Williams. This article
is adapted from CH 78.

Issue 11345

The forgotten Inkling
Owen Barfield’s insistence on the imagination as a road to truth profoundly changed
his friends—and through them, us

The gracious English bookstore clerk had
not heard of Owen Barfield. His early, groundbreaking
work of literary criticism, Poetic Diction, didn’t ring any
bells. Nor did his masterpiece, Saving the Appearances. I
didn’t mention his children’s fantasy, The Silver Trumpet, or his whimsical autobiographical novel, This Ever
Diverse Pair, dividing the two sides of his life into two
separate individuals—stolid lawyer Burden and creative dreamer Burgeon. Instead I hazarded: “He was a
friend of C. S. Lewis.” Her face lit up. “Oh! Was he an
Inkling?”

second friend and maker of myth
Barfield was not only an Inkling, but arguably one of
the Inklings who most formed Lewis’s thought. For
years before his conversion, Lewis had prided himself
on his rationality, his resistance to the lure of myth
and the supernatural. Such things were nice in poetry,
and poetry was one of his greatest pleasures, but he
thought they were, as he remarked to Tolkien early in
their friendship, “lies breathed through silver.” But
in a fateful conversation on Addison’s Walk, Tolkien
convinced Lewis that myth connected human beings
to divine truth—a memory, however corrupted, of the
union with God that we had before the fall.

46

But Tolkien was not alone in pushing Lewis toward
a more robust understanding of the imagination.
Lewis met Owen Barfield in 1919 while they were fellow undergraduates at Oxford. He later wrote of him
in Surprised by Joy: “The Second Friend is the man who
disagrees with you about everything. . . . Of course he
shares your interests; otherwise he would not become
your friend at all. But he has approached them all at
a different angle. He has read all the right books but
has got the wrong thing out of every one. . . . You go
at it, hammer and tongs, far into the night . . . or walking through fine country that neither gives a glance
to, each learning the weight of the other’s punches,
and often more like mutually respectful enemies
than friends.”
During most of the 1920s, while living near Oxford,
Barfield worked on Poetic Diction (1928), his first major
book. There he argued that poetry recalls an earlier
stage in human linguistic development when ideas
were bound up with the words that conveyed them.
For instance, in ancient Hebrew the word ruach could
mean “breath,” “wind,” or “spirit.” Barfield believed
that ancient people would not have distinguished these
as different possible meanings, but would have experienced them as one unified thing. Words used in poetry

Christian History

Barfield, Lewis, and Harwoods—With permission of the Owen Barfield Literary Estate

Edwin Woodruff Tait

four friends Barfield (far left) with C. S. Lewis and
Cecil and Daphne Harwood (left to right). Despite his
dislike of anthroposophy, Lewis thought adopting it had
made Daphne a nicer person.
deep in thought Right: Barfield’s writings ranged
from novels to philosophy and literary criticism.

Owen Barfield with pipe—Copyright 1972, Douglas R. Gilbert
the rose on the ash-heap and other book covers—Used by permission of The Marion E. Wade Center, Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL

unite the levels of meaning that we normally keep
apart in “prosaic” modern speech.
In the early 1920s, Barfield also encountered the
thought of Austrian philosopher and mystic Rudolf
Steiner, founder of a movement known as “anthroposophy” which believes that humans had once
intuitively known the spiritual world. By 1924 he was a
full-fledged member of the Anthroposophical Society.
(This was one of the things he and Lewis fought about
as they walked over English hills and dales.) Barfield
came to see a connection between Steiner’s concepts
and his own conclusions about the unity between literal and metaphorical language in ancient poetry.
Fellow friend and former Oxford classmate Cecil
Harwood embraced the movement as well.

“silly medievals”
Lewis was, at the time, still an atheist and horrified
by the fact that two good friends believed what he
regarded as a silly “medieval” superstition, with “gods,
spirits, afterlife and pre-existence, initiates, occult
knowledge, meditation.”
But Lewis also respected Barfield’s and Harwood’s
intellects and moral characters. Furthermore, he
respected Barfield as an intellectual foil. During
the 1920s they engaged in what Lewis called the
“Great War”—a philosophical debate wherein Lewis
defended “absolute idealism,” a philosophy popular
at that period in Britain although shortly to fall out of
favor. According to it, one absolute Reality consists of
all experience. Our limited experience of ourselves
as separate is illusory. We are, objectively, part of the
one Reality, but we don’t have direct access to it: no
personal relationships, with God or anyone else.
Lewis was terrified by the possibility of delusion
and insanity inherent in a claim to have had direct
supernatural experiences. He did not object to the
idea that the imagination catches a glimpse of ultimate Reality, but he insisted that this glimpse can’t be
expressed in words. On the one hand, Lewis saw the
Absolute, which can only be perceived briefly through
mystical experience. On the other he saw everyday
material reality. The terms of the one can never be used
to describe the other.
But Barfield rejected this dichotomy—and indeed all
dichotomies. He believed that imagination not only perceives truth but actually creates it: our very experiences
of the physical world results from the mind’s interaction

with spiritual reality. Thus we do not give “meaning” to
an objective outside world. Meaning is truth.
In addition to arguing for the imagination, Barfield
also argued for the past’s wisdom. Lewis noted after
his conversion that he began the “Great War” under the
influence of “chronological snobbery,” regarding past
ages as inferior. Barfield, according to Lewis, cured him
of this superior attitude.
Barfield later wondered if he had done the job too
thoroughly, criticizing Lewis’s often uncritical praise of
the past in his mature work. Barfield believed that truth
is an interaction between our minds and whatever is
“outside” or “beyond” our minds; thus he believed it
changes and grows.
One of Lewis’s later works, The Discarded Image,
a loving and detailed examination of the medieval
model of the universe, bears witness to what Lewis had
learned from Barfield. Yet at the end, Lewis qualified
his admiration by saying that, no matter how much the
medieval model might delight us as it delighted our
ancestors, “it was not true.” The dichotomy Barfield
had sought to overcome in the Great War was still
there: delight is one thing, truth another.

Issue 11347

toot! Left: Tolkien’s children loved Barfield’s The Silver
Trumpet, loaned to them by Lewis.

How far Lewis’s orthodox Christianity led him to
remain cold to some of Barfield’s odder ideas is not
clear. Lewis, in one of his relatively rare comments on
anthroposophy after his conversion, said that his primary concern was that anthroposophists do not really
believe in “God the Father Almighty.” Barfield, for his
part, accused Lewis of stressing the Father over the Son.
Barfield believed in the Trinity, but he interpreted it in
terms that often sounded more like impersonal forces
than a traditional Christian understanding.

who changed whom?
After his conversion, Lewis refused to continue his
debate with Barfield about the nature of knowledge,
much to Barfield’s frustration. But Lewis’s later writings show an appreciation of Barfield’s insights on what
is wrong with treating the physical world as a “dead
thing.” The Abolition of Man (Barfield’s favorite among
Lewis’s writings) takes aim at the division between
“objective” and “subjective” that leads people to say that
only physical things are real, while beauty and truth
and moral values are purely “subjective.” Lewis even,
in that book, expressed a good word for Steiner. And
in Surprised by Joy he said of his lifelong Second Friend:
“I think he changed me a good deal more than I him.”
Lewis’s later fiction is often seen as evidence that
he gave the imagination a greater role: the magnificent
Narnian Chronicles as well as the Space Trilogy and Till

48

We Have Faces. But in Barfield’s opinion, there always
remained a fundamental difference between them. He
characterized Lewis’s position as being like a Victorian
man who put women on a pedestal of idealized romantic love, not wanting them “sullied” by contact with
mundane reality. “Lewis was in love with the imagination,” Barfield said. “But I wanted to marry it.”
Deeply influenced by Romantic poetry of the early
nineteenth century, Barfield embraced anthroposophy
because it seemed, in his words, “Romanticism come
of age.” In particular he identified with Samuel Taylor
Coleridge’s belief that true imagination is creative—
bringing new meaning into existence.
In Saving the Appearances (1957) Barfield argued that
everything we know, including physical objects such as
trees, comes from a collaboration between our senses
and external reality. Color, shape, size, texture—all of
these things depend on our senses. There is no “green”
apart from eyes that can perceive color. Scientists
describe physical reality in terms of atoms and particles. But this isn’t what we experience when we see or
hear or touch a tree.
According to Barfield ancient people lived in a state
of “original participation,” conscious that the things they
perceived have a life of their own—something “on the
other side” of the tree communicating with them. In the
modern world, however, people experience the world
outside themselves as a world of dead “things.” Both
Greek philosophy and the Old Testament encouraged
this, but the real turn to separation, for Barfield, began
with the Protestant Reformation and the scientific revolution. Together they created a material world no longer
filled with spiritual forces, but rather with things that
can be understood, quantified, and controlled.

Christian History

The Silver Trumpet Illustration—With permission of the Owen Barfield Literary Estate
Owen Barfield and Clyde Kilby—Used by permission of The Marion E. Wade Center, Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL

the last inkling Below: Barfield (with Clyde Kilby,
right) visited the Wade Center at Wheaton College several
times; it holds many of his unpublished writings.

a delightful model Right: Did
medieval people create their model of
the universe by believing in it?
“Two Souls, Alas, are dwelling in
my breast” Below: Barfield’s bookplate
expresses his own struggles through this
quote from Goethe.

But it was also a world where the
divine Logos had become incarnate in
Jesus of Nazareth, profoundly changing the nature of human history and
beginning a new kind of participation.
Through Jesus, human beings can participate in reality in a more conscious,
individual way. As Barfield saw it, we
now face the task of growing into the
new kind of participation made possible by Jesus—one in which the heart
and mind are fired by the light of Christ.
This requires not only moral transformation but also a new way of looking at the world; one in
which the imagination plays a central role.

FLAMMARION—Wikipedia
Bookplate—With permission of the Owen Barfield Literary Estate

Lawyer and philosopher
Saving the Appearances was one of the few books
Barfield managed to write during the three decades
when he worked as a lawyer in his family’s London
firm. After his 1960s retirement, he became more
active as a writer and enjoyed increasing fame (particularly in the United States) and a growing reputation
as a philosopher who challenged modern materialism
and offered creative answers.
In many ways Tolkien, though never personally as
close to Barfield as Lewis, reflected Barfield’s insights
most fully. Barfield theorized about the imagination a
great deal, but his own fiction was often stilted and
didactic.
As a philologist (scholar of language), Tolkien took
an interest in Barfield’s theories in Poetic Diction. He
once told Lewis that Barfield’s ideas had permanently
altered how he taught the history of language. And the
sense so many have that Tolkien’s imagined world is
real gives substance to Barfield’s claims about the imagination’s creative role.
Much of Tolkien’s writing works from hints, usually linguistic, creating some kind of puzzle requiring
explanation. For instance, Anglo-Saxon has a lot of
words implying horse-centered culture, even though
historical Anglo-Saxons fought mostly on foot. From
these hints came the entire culture of Rohan in The Lord
of the Rings. Using precisely the kind of complex metaphors that Barfield studied in Poetic Diction, Tolkien
created a world often seeming more real than the “real
world.” Even the archaic language for which Tolkien

was criticized serves, according to Barfield’s theories, to
create a “gap” between the story and the prosaic associations modern readers bring to the text.
Tolkien reintroduced heroic literature to the modern world, as his
legion of imitators demonstrates. Hooded black riders,
dark lords in dark towers,
cheerful and naive heroes
of small stature, mysterious elves who
live in forests—
these things have
passed into the
consciousness of the
modern world. To some degree
Tolkien changed how we see the world, and by doing so
changed the world; insofar as Barfield helped to shape
Tolkien’s work, this may be Barfield’s most lasting legacy. But if Barfield’s understanding of our challenges has
any validity, we need a legion of Tolkiens and Lewises to
reshape reality by the fire of their imaginations.
So Lewis recognized when he dedicated The Lion, the
Witch, and the Wardrobe to Barfield’s daughter, Lucy: “I
wrote this story for you, but when I began it I had not
realized that girls grow quicker than books. As a result
you are already too old for fairy tales, and by the time it
is printed and bound you will be older still. But some day
you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.”
All seven sages would have agreed that when the world
grows old enough, the fairy tales need to be waiting. C H
Edwin Woodruff Tait is a contributing editor at Christian
History. Portions of this article appeared in CH issue 78.

Issue 11349

Recommended resources
With seven influential authors and scores of books by and about them, where should one begin?
Here are suggestions compiled by our editors, contributors, and the Wade Center. Visit the Wade
Center’s website (www.wheaton.edu/wadecenter) for a complete list and check out its journal,
SEVEN: An Anglo-American Literary Review, for further resources.
GeorGe MacDonalD

J. r. r. tolKien

r #FHJOXJUI The Princess and the Goblin (1872); The
Princess and Curdie (1883); The Wise Woman (1875);
Phantastes (1858); Sir Gibbie (1879); Diary of an Old Soul
(1897); Malcolm (1875); George MacDonald: An Anthology (ed. C. S. Lewis)
r :PV NJHIU BMTP MJLF The Light Princess and Other Stories (1890); At The
Back of the North Wind (1871); What’s
Mine’s Mine (1886); Lilith (1895);
Poetical Works of George MacDonald
(1893); George MacDonald in the Pulpit
(ed. Joseph Flynn and David Edwards)
r 4FMFDUFE TUVEJFT: Greville MacDonald, George MacDonald and His
Wife (introduction by G. K. Chesterton); Rolland Hein, George MacDonald, Victorian Mythmaker; William
Raeper, George MacDonald; Kirstin
Jeffrey Johnson, Storykeeper; Kerry
Dearborn, The Baptized Imagination
rJPVSOBMT North Wind, Wingfold
r 8FC The Golden Key; George MacDonald Informational Web; Father of the Inklings; North Wind

r #FHJO XJUI The Hobbit (1937); The Lord of the Rings
(1954–55); Tree and Leaf (1964); The Monsters and the Critics and Other Essays (1983); The Adventures of Tom Bombadil (1962); Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien (1981); The Father
Christmas Letters (1976)
r :PV NJHIU BMTP MJLF Farmer Giles of
Ham (1949); Smith of Wootton Major (1967);
The Silmarillion (1977); Pictures by J. R. R.
Tolkien (1992); Unfinished Tales (1980);
and the History of Middle-earth series
(1983–1986)
r4FMFDUFETUVEJFT: Humphrey Carpenter,
Tolkien; Wayne Hammond and Christina
Scull, J. R. R. Tolkien, Artist and Illustrator
and the LOTR Reader’s Companion; T. A.
Shippey, The Road to Middle-earth and
J. R. R. Tolkien, Author of the Century;
Matthew Dickerson and Jonathan Evans,
Ents, Elves, and Eriador; Neil Isaacs and
Rose Zimbardo, Understanding The Lord of the Rings;
Ralph Wood, The Gospel According to Tolkien
r+PVSOBMT: Amon Hen, Mallorn, Tolkien Studies, Mythlore,
Journal of Inklings Studies
r 8FC The Tolkien Society; Tolkien Estate;
Encyclopedia of Arda; The One Ring; Tolkien Gateway

G. K. chesterton
r #FHJO XJUI Orthodoxy (1908); The Everlasting Man
(1925); the Father Brown mystery series, and Autobiography (1936); The Man Who Was Thursday
(1908); Collected Poems of G. K. Chesterton
(1933)
r :PV NJHIU BMTP MJLF The Napoleon
of Notting Hill (1904); The Club of Queer
Trades (1905); What’s Wrong with the World
(1910); Heretics (1905); The Ball and the Cross
(1909); The Man Who Knew Too Much (1922);
St. Francis of Assisi (1924)
r 4FMFDUFE TUVEJFT: Maisie Ward, G. K.
Chesterton; Ian Ker, G. K. Chesterton; Ralph
Wood, Chesterton: The Nightmare Goodness
of God; Dale Ahlquist, G. K. Chesterton,
Apostle of Common Sense
r+PVSOBMT Gilbert, The Chesterton Review
r 8FC American Chesterton Society; GKC Institute
for Faith and Culture; G.K. Chesterton Library

50

c. s. lewis
r #FHJO XJUI The Chronicles of Narnia
(1950–1956); The Screwtape Letters (1942);
The Great Divorce (1945); Mere Christianity
(1952); Surprised by Joy (1955); The Abolition
of Man (1943); A Grief Observed (1961)
r:PVNJHIUBMTPMJLF The Space Trilogy
(1938–1945); Miracles (1960); Till We Have
Faces (1956); Letters to Malcolm (1963); The
Discarded Image (1964); essay collections
God in the Dock, The Weight of Glory, and
The World’s Last Night; Collected Letters
vols. 1–3
r 4FMFDUFE TUVEJFT: James Como,
Remembering C. S. Lewis; Peter Schakel,
The Way into Narnia; Walter Hooper,
C. S. Lewis: A Complete Guide to His Life and Works;
George Sayer, Jack; Alan Jacobs, The Narnian; Alister

Christian History

McGrath, C. S. Lewis; Michael Ward, Planet Narnia
and The Cambridge Companion to C. S. Lewis; Matthew
Dickerson and David O’Hara, Narnia and the Fields
of Arbol; Lyle Dorsett, Seeking the Secret Place; David
Downing, Into the Wardrobe, Into the Region of Awe, and
Planets in Peril; Crystal Downing, How Postmodernism
Serves (My) Faith
r +PVSOBMT: Bulletin of the New York CSL Society;
The Lamp-Post; Mythlore; Journal of Inklings Studies
r7JEFPTGSPN7JTJPO7JEFP: Shadowlands
r 8FC CSLewis.com, maintained by
HarperCollins (which also runs Narnia
.com); Into the Wardrobe; C. S. Lewis Web;
C. S. Lewis Foundation; C.S. Lewis Institute

Dorothy l. sayers
r#FHJOXJUI: Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries (1923–1937); Creed or Chaos? (1940); The
Mind of the Maker (1941); The Man Born to Be
King (1943)
r:PVNJHIUBMTPMJLFSayers’s translation
of the Divine Comedy by Dante (1949–1962);
Letters of Dorothy L. Sayers (vols. 1–5)
r 4FMFDUFE TUVEJFT: Christopher Dean, ed., Studies in
Sayers and Further Studies in Sayers; Crystal Downing,
Writing Performances; Barbara Reynolds, Dorothy L.
Sayers and The Passionate Intellect +BNFT #SBCB[PO

Dorothy L. Sayers
r+PVSOBMT: Sidelights on Sayers
r8FC Dorothy L. Sayers Society

charles williaMs
r #FHJO XJUI War in Heaven (1933); Many Dimensions
(1931); The Place of the Lion (1931); The Greater Trumps
(1932); The Descent of the Dove (1931); He Came Down from
Heaven (1931); Collected Plays (1945); The Forgiveness of
Sins (1942)
r :PV NJHIU BMTP MJLF Descent Into Hell (1937); All
Hallows’ Eve (1945); The Figure of Beatrice
(1931); The Image of the City (1945); Taliessin
through Logres, The Region of the Summer
Stars, and Arthurian Torso (1945, ed. by
C. S. Lewis); Outlines of Romantic Theology
(1930)
r4FMFDUFETUVEJFT: Thomas Howard, The
Novels of Charles Williams; Anne Ridler,
ed., The Taliessin Poems of Charles Williams;
Glen Cavaliero, Charles Williams, Poet of
Theology; Alice Mary Hadfield, Charles
Williams; Brian Horne, Charles Williams: A
Celebration
r+PVSOBMT: The Charles Williams Quarterly;
Mythlore; Journal of Inklings Studies
r 8FC The Charles Williams Society, The Oddest
Inkling

Issue 113

owen BarfielD
r #FHJO XJUI Worlds Apart (1963); Unancestral Voice
(1965); Saving the Appearances (1957); A Barfield Reader
r :PV NJHIU BMTP MJLF The Silver Trumpet (1925);
History in English Words (1926); Poetic Diction (1928);
Romanticism Comes of Age (1944); This Ever Diverse
Pair (1950); The Rediscovery of Meaning and Other
Essays (1977)
r 4FMFDUFE TUVEJFT: Astrid Diener, The Role of
Imagination in Culture and Society; Jacob
Sherman, An Ever Diverse Pair (on Barfield
and Teilhard de Chardin); G. B. Tennyson,
Man and Meaning (video documentary)
r +PVSOBMT: Mythlore; Journal of Inklings
Studies
r 8FC Owen Barfield Literary Estate;
Owen Barfield World Wide Web; Owen
Barfield Society

seven saGes in coMMunity
r 0XFO #BSGJFME
 Owen Barfield on C. S.
Lewis
r)VNQISFZ$BSQFOUFS
The Inklings
r$PMJO%VSJF[
C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien: The Gift of
Friendship and The Inklings Handbook
rVerlyn Flieger, Splintered Light
r %JBOB 1BWMBD (MZFS
 The Company They Keep: C. S.
Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien as Writers in Community
r 3PMMBOE )FJO
 Christian Mythmakers: C. S. Lewis,
Madeleine L’Engle, J. R. R. Tolkien, G. K. Chesterton,
and Others
r.BSL)JMMFHBT
Shadows of Imagination: The Fantasies of
C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, and Charles Williams
r$MZEF4,JMCZBOE.BSKPSJF-BNQ.FBE
Brothers and
Friends (Warren Lewis’s diary)
r$4-FXJT
FE
Essays Presented to Charles Williams,
(includes essays by Sayers, Tolkien, and Barfield in
addition to a memoir of Williams by Lewis)
r .JDIBFM .BD%POBME
 G. K. Chesterton
and C. S. Lewis: The Riddle of Joy
r +FGG .D(JOOJT
 Shadows and Chivalry:
C. S. Lewis and George MacDonald on
Suffering, Evil and Goodness
r+PTFQI1FBSDF
Literary Converts
r$BSPMBOE1IJMJQ;BMFTLJ
The Fellowship:
The Literary Lives of the Inklings: J. R. R.
Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, Owen Barfield, Charles
Williams

ChrisTian hisTory MaGaZines
The sages have been covered in these
past issues of CH NBHB[JOF 
 

75, 78, 86, and 88. Several of these issues are available to purchase and all are available to read at
www.christianhistoryNBHB[JOFPSH C H

51

Spiritual
& Literary
Giants

♦ THE MAID OF ORLEANS

♦ CATHOLIC LITERARY GIANTS

♦ THE SMILE OF A RAGPICKER

The Life & Mysticism of Joan of Arc
Sven Stolpe
his acclaimed work on the life and
legacy of Joan of Arc is considered
by many historians as one of the most
convincing, well researched, and best
written accounts of the Maid of Orleans. Stolpe vividly portrays the contemporary situation of France in Joan’s
time, evaluates the latest research on
her life, and arrives at an original and
authentic portrait — one that is also an
engaging work of literature. He sees
Joan of Arc as primarily a mystic, and
her supreme achievement and significance not so much in her mission to deliver France — though important — but
in her sharing in the Passion of Christ.

A Field Guide to the Catholic
Literary Landscape – Joseph Pearce
earce takes the reader on a dazzling tour of the creative landscape
of Catholic prose and poetry. Covering
the vast and impressive terrain from
Dante to Tolkien, from Shakespeare to
Waugh, this book is an immersion into
the spiritual depths of the Catholic literary tradition with one of today’s premier literary biographers as our guide.
Focusing especially on the literary
revival of the twentieth century, Pearce
explores well-known authors such as
G. K. Chesterton, Graham Greene, and
J. R. R. Tolkien, while introducing lesserknown writers Roy Campbell, Maurice
Baring, Owen Barfield, and others.

The Life of Satoko Kitahara
Paul Glynn, S.M.
ollowing his acclaimed work, A
Song for Nagasaki, the powerful story of Dr. Nagai who ministered to the
victims of the atomic bomb on his city,
this book tells the heroic story of Satoko
Kitahara, a young, beautiful woman of
wealth who gave up her riches to live
among the ragpickers in the Tokyo
slums. Motivated by her newfound
faith in Christ, Kitahara helped the
poor with their material and spiritual
needs, and to recover their dignity and
self-respect. Her impact was huge, and
her death at a young age was mourned by many thousands who saw her as
a saint. Illustrated.

“There have been many books about
Joan of Arc, but none surpass this
study in its re-creation of Joan’s
milieu, the vividness of its narrative,
and its sensitive understanding of the
mystery of her life and death.”

“Pearce covers the entire waterfront
and more here. This book crowns
everything that he has written thus far.”

“A powerful story of a contemporary,
sophisticated Japanese girl who, like a
female St. Francis, spent her life caring
for the poor in Tokyo. She brought
many to know Jesus Christ.”

T

— James Hitchcock, Ph.D.
Professor of History, St. Louis University
Author, History of the Catholic Church

MO-P . . . . Sewn Softcover, $17.95

P

— Thomas Howard, Author, Dove
Descending: T. S. Eliot’s “Four Quartets”

“In the years to come, Pearce himself
will be known as one of the literary
giants of our times. Wisdom, wit, insight, original thought—it is all here.”

— Michael O’Brien, Author,
Father Elijah: An Apocalypse

CLG-P . . . Sewn Softcover, $21.95

P.O. Box 1339, Ft. Collins, CO 80522

F

— Fr. Ken Baker, S.J., Author,
Inside the Bible

SMR-P. . . Sewn Softcover, $16.95

www.ignatius.com

1 (800) 651-1531

PO Box 540, Worcester, PA 19490
www.christianhistoryinstitute.org
Electronic Service Requested

Subscriber #
Source Code

C.S. Lewis
Through the Shadowlands

The Shortest Way Home:
C.S. Lewis and Mere Christianity

This film is about the agonizing spiritual crisis
C.S. Lewis underwent when his wife died from
cancer. The love, grief, pain, and sorrow were
so shattering to Lewis that his basic Christian
beliefs, magnificently communicated in his
many books, were called into serious doubt. In
this drama, you will be able to see his
commitment to Christ despite severe trials. He
picked up the pieces and moved out of the
depressing “shadowlands,” realizing that “real life has not even
begun yet.” Starring Joss Ackland and Claire Bloom. Winner of
over a dozen prestigious international awards. Drama, includes
90-minute and 73-minute versions.

Doubt and disbelief live in the hearts of many
people as they wrestle with the questions of
good and evil and the existence of God. Those
who embrace Christianity as a way of life must
then learn how to live out their faith as
transformed individuals in an imperfect and
difficult world. But how is this accomplished?
The Shortest Way Home: C.S. Lewis and Mere
Christianity is an introductory review to
Lewis’s classic work on issues of faith and reason. Viewers
will find honest discussion and helpful insights for the
tough questions asked by believers and skeptics alike.
Documentary, 56 minutes.

#4813D, $14.99

#501563D, $19.99

Affectionately Yours, Screwtape:
The Devil and C.S. Lewis

Through a Lens Darkly:
Grief, Loss, and C.S. Lewis

The Screwtape Letters, a thin volume of
imaginative letters between two devils, has
given millions of readers insight into
conquering everyday spiritual struggles.
Join us as we explore the biblical, historical,
and cultural depictions of Satan and hell, and
gain a deeper understanding of the nature of
temptation and redemption. Whether you’re a
devoted C.S. Lewis fan or just reading his work
for the first time, you’re sure to develop a new appreciation for The
Screwtape Letters through this modern look at his timeless classic.
This DVD can be viewed as a documentary or as a five-part study for
small groups. Documentary, 52 minutes.

Loss comes in many forms: the grief over the
death of a loved one, the devastation of a
physical or mental impairment, the pain of
divorce or separation, or the distress of job
loss and foreclosure. So where does a person
turn for answers and encouragement in a time
of despair, doubt, or fear? Through a Lens
Darkly will uplift the soul with moving stories
of individuals and families touched by
significant loss who have begun their journeys to recovery and
who share their thoughts on the timeless wisdom of C.S. Lewis’s
most personal and reflective book, A Grief Observed.
Documentary, 56 minutes.

#501167D, $14.99

#501407D, $19.99

All 4 DVDs for $29.99 (#97617D) – save $40 with promo code CHM113
Sale is good until April 30, 2015.
YOUR SATISFACTION IS GUARANTEED!
TO ORDER, CALL:

MAIL TO (include $5.99 s/h):

ON THE WEB:

1-800-523-0226

Vision Video–Dept CHM113
PO Box 540
Worcester, PA 19490

www.VisionVideo.com

Please mention source code
CHM113 when ordering.

Please use promo code CHM113
at step 4 of checkout.

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