Tuesday, February 24, 2009

C.S. Lewis & JRR Tolkien Versus Today

on C.S. Lewis an hour ago, it was moving that he and Tolkien [who affected me greatly while I was in France & later] were so near and yet at the opposite poles of the mythological universe. First, it's a shame that Tolkien was the ONLY SURVIVOR of his prep school class of 30 males! That MUST have affected his spirituality. C.S. Lewis also was in the trenches and nearly killed---he was a militant atheist and prided himself that he "never sunk to prayer." When they hooked up as unbelievably brilliant Oxford dons [Lewis had a TRIPLE FIRST in mods, greats and English lit], Tolkien had already achieved academic superstardom for single-handedly rescuing Beowulf from total obscurity. Lewis describes his bizarre conversion to Christianity [he was a logician and a complete rationalist, and mentally argued all the proofs against God until he "became the least grateful convert in England."]. The Catholic Tolkien had a lot to do with it, and had already begun his fantastically successful The Hobbit. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings has the complete mythological universe of Aquinases' Summa Theologica or Wagner's Ring of the Nibelungs [Tolkien was of German descent with both parents born in Germany, then moved to S. Africa, and JRRT got into Oxford]. My Alma Mater Marquette University has all his life's papers in Milwaukee, so I obsess occasionally about JRRT. Tolkien consulted with a Jesuit at Oxford when he had Gandalf die in one book and be resurrected in the next! Sorry for obsessive digression. He & Tolkien read their works out loud while downing pints every Tuesday morning among The Inklings, a tiny club which met at the Eagle & Child [now Bird and Baby], and the endless editing caused Lewis & Tolkien headaches. Unlike the Hegelian JRRT, Lewis was a whimsical Protestant theologian, whose Arslan also dies and comes back [CSL was raised on Beatrix Potter].

But then Lewis read his book The Screwtape Letters over BBC in 1940 during The Battle of Britain & became a household word, hitting the cover of Time Mag and achieving celebrity abruptly. Then Lewis & his dotty brother took in four kids from London during the Blitz, which fathered The Chronicles of Narnia So both were famous in the forties and since then have become the two most famous Brit [or arguably any] authors of the twentieth century, selling between them close to a billion books in every language & massive movies.

All this is a prologue to the University Challenge scandal in the UK, where an utterly brilliant young PhD candidate [Latin Lit] named Gail Trimble, amassing 825 out of 1235 points gained by Corpus Christi, Oxford on their way to a win. For her brilliance, scorn and ridicule ['Smug', 'brain-rupturingly irritating', 'vicious bitch', 'a horse-toothed snob'.] are the prize, while Jade Goody on Big Brother pronounced East Anglia "East Angular" & thought it a foreign country. Niki had heard of Jade's bout with cancer and deathbed wedding [Facebook], but not of Gail. So nowadays, if you get a Triple First, you sit on a public dunking stool getting rotten eggs thrown at you? I'm afraid the people left of Obama want the US to be the same cesspool of class hatred that the know-nothings & skinheads dwell in today in the UK. Plus that 9% of the UK population born outside the country which hates the natives! Melanie Phillips accurately assesses the entire situation, with emphasis on "Britain’s steady descent into baying brutishness."

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