Tag Archives: Inklings

Should You Perceive Meaning in Nature?


If humans can manipulate some aspect of nature—in other words, if humans find a way to perform godlike miracles with the building blocks of, say, biology—does that mean whatever’s manipulable has no meaning? And, implicitly, has no divine origin? Along those lines, I recently found a quotation from one of the Inklings, and I thought the idea was worth wrestling with.

In the 1970s, Owen Barfield—a close friend of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien— wrote: “Amid all the menacing signs that surround us in the middle of this twentieth century, perhaps the one which fills thoughtful people with the greatest sense of forboding is the growing sense of meaninglessness. It is this which underlies most of the other threats. How is it that the more able man becomes to manipulate the world to his advantage, the less he can perceive any meaning in it?”

Isolate the assumption in that question and convert it into a statement: “The more able man becomes to manipulate the world to his advantage, the less he can perceive any meaning in it.”

I’m inclined to agree, probably because I’ve read enough of Lewis to get an inevitable splash of Barfield, but how true is that statement, really? Is it true often enough, generally enough?

Probably, but then why?

Maybe the more “we” (some group within the human race) find nature manipulable, the more we assume its value is reducible. In other words, maybe humans once assumed nature was set by God in some inviolable way, and when we realized we could manipulate it, suddenly nature seemed violable, therefore less valuable, less absolute, less a reflection of divinity.

The more it can be manipulated, we assume (perhaps unconsciously), the less it must be a creation of a divine power, and if something has less value, it seems to mean less (the way value is applied and understood and designated is a lot to think about). If some divinity made nature, why would mere mortals be able to mess with it?

But along those lines, the ability to manipulate is not a simple either-or situation. It has matters of degree. Should our ability to manipulate nature (a big, abstract ability) be any more surprising than our ability to make a salad from wild vegetables? To make a shelter from trees and branches?

But then there’s that popular Internet meme: “The sciences can tell you how to clone a T-Rex. The humanities can tell you why that might not be a good idea.”

At any rate, I’m not sure Barfield was precisely correct in the above quotation. It could be that, on a popular level, certain assumptions about nature, science, and progress became “viral” before the Internet was part of our daily lives. (Late evangelical thinker Francis Schaeffer, decades before the Internet, once suggested that Americans get their opinions like they catch cold viruses—they’re not sure where they got those opinions, but they certainly got them.) So certain assumptions—and maybe inclinations of attitude—made Western people less likely to perceive meaning, but maybe not less able. Not less able, just less inclined.

Furthermore, whether from a metaphysical point of view or a naturalistic point of view, wouldn’t nature have to be meaningful?

‘C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the Myth of Progress’ — A Podcast Interview


Inklings fans, take note: A recent episode of The Art of Manliness podcast featured an interview with Joseph Loconte, author of A Hobbit, A Wardrobe, and a Great War: How J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis Rediscovered Faith, Friendship, & Heroism in the Cataclysm of 1914-18.

The interview with Loconte taught me new things about the way Tolkien and Lewis viewed life and literature. I also was challenged to think more about my deeply held, Western-world belief in the supposedly inevitable outcome called progress.

Speaking of Inklings, you might also be interested in reading Charles Williams’s take on dogmaand watching a short documentary on Owen Barfield.

 

Considering Books by C.S. Lewis


I think I might like Till We Have Faces as much as all other C.S. Lewis books combined.

How about you?

Here’s my brief review (of an old book!) from earlier this year.

Philosopher David McNaughton on C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien


One of my buds at the university has this excellent website called What Is It Like To Be A Philosopher? It’s devoted to interviews with contemporary philosophers, and the conversational blend of biography and perspective is always fascinating, at least to people like me. I’ve previously posted an excerpt from the interview with Michael Ruse.

In the latest interview, David McNaughton, who like Ruse is a philosopher at Florida State, talks about his love of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. Both of these Inklings, especially Lewis, make appearances throughout the interview. (McNaughton doesn’t name Tolkien, but he names The Lord of the Rings as a favorite three times.)

Happy Summertime!

Tolkien on Anarchism


JRR Tolkien on Anarchism

C.S. Lewis, a ‘wannabe poet,’ and other Inklings praised acclaimed poet Ruth Pitter


Ruth Pitter was the first woman to win the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry. The English poet (and personal friend of C.S. Lewis) won the Hawthornden Prize for Poetry in 1937 for A Trophy of Arms and the William E. Heinneman Award in 1954 for The Ermine. She was admired by W.B. Yeats and members of the Inklings.

Don W. King recently completed Hunting the Unicorn: A Critical Biography of Ruth Pitter (Kent State University Press), the first work of its kind on Pitter and her poetry. The book will be released in May or June.

King is Professor of English at Montreat College in Montreat, N.C., and editor of Christian Scholar’s Review.

He is author of C.S. Lewis, Poet: The Legacy of His Poetic Impulse. Our parent site, LiturgicalCredo, recently interviewed King about Pitter and the story behind Hunting the Unicorn.

The following is an excerpt from the interview; click here to see the full interview.

What kind of relationship did [Pitter] have with some of the other Inklings?

Well, Pitter did not have a university education. She came to maturity during World War One and actually had matriculated at London University but when the war came basically she had to drop out, and she took a job in the Foreign Office. So she didn’t have the background that Lewis and his friends, most of the other Inklings, would have had – she didn’t have a university education.

Her first contact with one of the Inklings was with Lord David Cecil, who came across her poetry and was quite moved by it, and basically wrote her fan letters. He was, by the way, a professor of literature at one of the Oxford colleges, so you can imagine how that must have made her feel –“Here’s an academic writing me and telling me how much he enjoys my poetry.”

Pitter and Cecil began corresponding but it was through another common friend in the mid 1940s that Lewis came across Pitter’s poetry, and basically he did the same thing that David Cecil had done; he communicated to this friend that he thought she was a quite good poet. That emboldened Pitter to ask if she could come visit Lewis in Oxford. She had really been impressed during World War Two listening to Lewis’ radio broadcasts that eventually became Mere Christianity. And in many ways – she says in many letters – that her own movement toward Christianity was a direct result of having heard Lewis on the radio.

So by the time she writes him in the mid 1940s – I think it was 1946, their first letter – she is nearing faith in Christ but she’s not quite there. But she writes to Lewis and says can she come to Magdalen College, and he invites her up to have lunch in his rooms. And that began the relationship. It was
initially, primarily, about poetry – I mean, that’s what they had in common, their interest in poetry. And as I said earlier, he was the wannabe poet and she was the established well-known poet. He shared her view of poetry, what poetry should do, the kind of poetry they both liked. In a way it was
only natural, once he befriended her, that they would begin this correspondence.

You talked about the surprise of running across the Perelandra transcripts. Once you started digging into Pitter for the sake of doing a book on her, were there new surprises waiting for you?

I think one of the surprises was that she wasn’t university educated. She was an artisan. She worked hard all of her life, basically doing ornamental painting on furniture. She and a friend of hers . . . eventually set up a business – this was after they learned the trade…they decided to set up their own business. From the 1930s they had quite a successful business doing this, sending their goods all over the British Empire. World War Two put a squash on that as it did on many things. But I think that was the first thing that surprised me, that she wasn’t an academic. She was a hard-working woman who happened to have the gifts of poetry.

The second thing that surprised me was that her first poem was published when she was about nine years old. Her father had been friends with a man whose name was A.R. Orage, who was well-known at the beginning of the 19th Century as the editor of a socialist newspaper, and through that contact, Pitter had a lot of her poetry published. I think her first poem was published about 1911. So from 1911 through the early 1920s she had a lot of poetry published in that periodical, called The New Age. It wasn’t particularly good poetry as she herself later admitted but then again you can imagine the good of the encouragement she must have had, to have some of her poetry published at such a young age. This was in a periodical where poetry by Ezra Pound appeared, and Kathryn Mansfield, so some of these people who were published, who she was published alongside of, were quite significant poets. There were a lot of other bad poets published in the same thing, but, you know, interesting that she made some early contacts like that.

She was befriended at a number of times by some rather significant literary luminaries of the time, and they helped to push her poetry forward. Maybe another thing that surprised me is that – and a reason I like her too – she was pretty self-effacing, and didn’t try to do much to try to push her name and her poetry into the forefront. It was just like she wrote poetry because she loved it, and of course she would like people to be interested in it. You know, the whole P.R. thing was just something that was anathema to her. It embarrassed her to see some of her friends who spent all their time trying to get their name out in public. At the same time, she was fortunate to have Orage and Hillaire Belloc – Belloc was a pretty important writer and member of Parliament [and] through the 1920s he took Pitter under his wing, and David Cecil did. She was fortunate to have some people who saw the merit of her poetry and were able to help her get some of that poetry published.

(Read the full interview, and find links to some of the books mentioned above, here.)

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New book offers first critical biography of C.S. Lewis’ friend Ruth Pitter, first woman to win Queen’s poetry award


LiturgicalCredo.com has posted an interview with Don W. King, author of Hunting the Unicorn: A Critical Biography of Ruth Pitter (Kent State University Press). The book is due in May.

In 1955, English poet Ruth Pitter became the first woman to receive the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry. She had previously won two other major poetry awards.

Pitter was admired by W.B. Yeats and C.S. Lewis, as well as other members of the Inklings.

Don W. King discovered references to letters between Lewis and Pitter while he was doing research for his 2001 book, C.S. Lewis, Poet: The Legacy of His Poetic Impulse (Kent State University Press). After that, he continued to research Pitter, and the result was Hunting the Unicorn.

You’ll find the interview prominently displayed on our home page.

(Mac users, if you happen to notice any strange breaks in the text of the interview, please let us know by leaving a comment on this post.)

cheers,

Colin Foote Burch

LiturgicalCredo.com