Literary Pasta

How many cans of SpaghettiOs would you need to purchase to be able to write the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy in their noodley alphabet?

What, you’ve never pondered that quandary? Well, now that the question has been posed, you may as well learn the answer.

The purveyor of this revelation is an online personality who analyzed the ratio of letters in cans of the SpaghettiOs A to Zs. He then devised a computer “program that converts books to SpaghettiOs.” [An inarguably valuable pursuit.]

It involved identifying the typical shapes of the pasta fonts.

Ah, to the solution to the puzzle. An individual seeking to replicate the Lord of the Rings would require 8,795 cans. The price would be slightly more than $2,000 and as a bonus, you would be left with more than eight million characters to devour.

Having labored to create the complex algorithms in his computer program, he has applied the versatile tool to other publications.

The King James Bible, for example, would demand 51, 214,669 cans to reproduce. At a price of approximately seventy-one billion dollars. [Editor’s note: the cost would probably be prohibitive, so don’t expect to see a physical attempt made in the near future.]

J.R.R. Tolkien was an extraordinary philologist. He loved languages, and he actually created more than one.

The creator of Middle Earth actually fashioned an alphabet for his Elven tongues. I have had my own name (by virtue of its meaning) rendered in Tengwar alphabet here.

Nevertheless, as inspired by linguistics and alphabets as he was, I doubt Tolkien would have been the least bit impressed by the canned pasta research.

In a 1956 letter, Tolkien described the process of completing his masterpiece for publication. I share the letter now, due to its reference to alphabets. However, due to its illuminating insight into the broader subject, I offer here a more extended rendition.

As ‘research students’ always discover, however long they are allowed, and careful their work and notes, there is always a rush at the end, when the last date suddenly approaches on which their thesis must be presented.

So it was with this book, and the maps. I had to call in the help of my son – the C.T. or C.J.R.T. of the modest initials on the maps – an accredited student of hobbit-lore. And neither of us had an entirely free hand.

I remember that when it became apparent that the ‘general map’ would not suffice for the final Book, or sufficiently reveal the courses of Frodo, the Rohirrim, and Aragorn, I had to devote many days, the last three virtually without food or bed, to drawing re-scaling and adjusting a large map, at which he then worked for 24 hours (6 a.m. to 6 a.m. without bed) in re-drawing just in time.

Inconsistencies of spelling are due to me. It was only in the last stages that (in spite of my son’s protests: he still holds that no one will ever pronounce Cirith right, it appears as Kirith in his map, as formerly also in the text) I decided to be ‘consistent’ and spell Elvish names and words throughout without k. There are no doubt other variations. . . .

I am, however, primarily a philologist and to some extent a calligrapher (though this letter may make that difficult to believe). And my son after me. To us far and away the most absorbing interest is the Elvish tongues, and the nomenclature based on them; and the alphabets.

My plans for the ‘specialist volume’ were largely linguistic. An index of names was to be produced, which by etymological interpretation would also provide quite a large Elvish vocabulary; this is of course a first requirement. I worked at it for months, and indexed the first two vols. (it was the chief cause of the delay of Vol iii) until it became clear that size and cost were ruinous.

Back to the noodle font. I doubt it Tolkien would have been impressed. What about his fellow Inkling, C.S. Lewis? What might he have said about the quantity of pasta-based “moveable type” required to reproduce Tolkien’s trilogy?

Allow me to take two simple words (out of context) from a letter he wrote in 1956. I think the Oxbridge don would have labeled the effort (and today’s post itself) “infinitely unimportant.”

Please forgive me if this sojourn into current trivia wasted your time. (But I hope, at least, that you enjoyed learning more about Tolkien’s linguistic and cartographic expertise.)

Resurrection Bodies, Angels & C.S. Lewis

And just what will those heavenly bodies be like..? And what about those angels..?

Among the many things that Christians look forward to, as an unearned gift from God, is a new body. This resurrected body will not be like our old (i.e. former) body… but it will be similar to the bodies of our first parents, Eve and Adam. So, in a sense, one might say it’s a bit like that old, old (i.e. original) body.

Sadly, there’s a lot of unnecessary confusion about what awaits us after death. While the Lord doesn’t give us all the details (which we wouldn’t be able to comprehend right now anyway), he does make the big picture clear. Here are some facts (based on the Scriptures as interpreted for 2,000 years within the orthodox Christian faith).

1.  You can’t do enough good works to deserve to enter heaven. It’s all about God’s mercy and grace.

If you think you can be good enough to get there on your own . . . sorry. If you therefore don’t think it matters at all how you live… you will end up just as sorry.

2. In heaven, God’s redeemed will not be incorporeal spirits. We’ll have bodies, just as our Maker intended from the day he breathed life into Adam’s lungs. Christians affirm belief in the “resurrection of the body.”

As to the nature of the bodies, God doesn’t leave us ignorant. One of the best New Testament descriptions is found in First Corinthians.

Even the Old Testament prophet Job proclaimed the wonders of a bodily resurrection when, in his own flesh, he would see the Lord.

God’s written word includes more about our resurrection bodies. One, from the letter to the Christians in Philippi, says, “the Lord Jesus Christ . . . will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body.” This verse, like the stained glass image above, inspires me to wonder what that body will be like. Like Jesus’ own resurrection body, we learn.

Perhaps also like humanity’s unfallen human bodies portrayed here in colored glass. If the artist’s vision is accurate, I’m eager to welcome back the hair that once adorned my head, and to enjoy those stunningly defined abs, that I unfortunately never possessed.

Writing to his friend Arthur Greeves, Lewis clarified the biblical definition of resurrection.

I agree that we don’t know what a spiritual body is. But I don’t like contrasting it with (your words) “an actual, physical body.” This suggests that the spiritual body wd. be the opposite of “actual” – i.e. some kind of vision or imagination. And I do think most people imagine it as something that looks like the present body and isn’t really there.

Our Lord’s eating the boiled fish seems to put the boots on that idea, don’t you think? I suspect the distinction is the other way round—that it is something compared with which our present bodies are half real and phantasmal. (19 August 1947)

3. Human beings never become angels. One of most common mistakes about heaven is that people (“good” ones, at least) become angels after they die. They don’t. Period. Angels are angels and people are people – two separate beings, each with their own nature. Angels are majestic, most certainly, but they were not blessed like humanity to be created in the very image of God.

And never forget, not all angels are good. Those fallen ones, in fact, no longer merit their identification as angels. Better to label them as what they’ve become, demons.

As for people being intrinsically distinct from angels, C.S. Lewis wrote a poem that contrasts angelic and human personhood.

On Being Human by C. S. Lewis

Angelic minds, they say, by simple intelligence
Behold the Forms of nature. They discern
Unerringly the Archetypes, all the verities
Which mortals lack or indirectly learn.
Transparent in primordial truth, unvarying,
Pure Earthness and right Stonehood from their clear,
High eminence are seen; unveiled, the seminal
Huge Principles appear.

The Tree-ness of the tree they know – the meaning of
Arboreal life, how from earth’s salty lap
The solar beam uplifts it; all the holiness
Enacted by leaves’ fall and rising sap;

But never an angel knows the knife-edged severance
Of sun from shadow where the trees begin,
The blessed cool at every pore caressing us
– An angel has no skin.

They see the Form of Air; but mortals breathing it
Drink the whole summer down into the breast.
The lavish pinks, the field new-mown, the ravishing
Sea-smells, the wood-fire smoke that whispers Rest.
The tremor on the rippled pool of memory
That from each smell in widening circles goes,
The pleasure and the pang – can angels measure it?
An angel has no nose.

The nourishing of life, and how it flourishes
On death, and why, they utterly know; but not
The hill-born, earthy spring, the dark cold bilberries.
The ripe peach from the southern wall still hot
Full-bellied tankards foamy-topped, the delicate
Half-lyric lamb, a new loaf’s billowy curves,
Nor porridge, nor the tingling taste of oranges.
– An angel has no nerves.

Far richer they! I know the senses’ witchery
Guards us like air, from heavens too big to see;
Imminent death to man that barb’d sublimity
And dazzling edge of beauty unsheathed would be.
Yet here, within this tiny, charmed interior,
This parlour of the brain, their Maker shares
With living men some secrets in a privacy
Forever ours, not theirs.

Heaven will be wondrous. Not only will we get to worship the One who created and redeemed us, there is so much more we have to look forward to. Enjoying a new, unflawed body . . . hobnobbing with angels who sang to celebrate Christ’s Nativity . . . and waiting in line to enjoy a beverage with C.S. Lewis.


The picture above is of a stained glass window in the Basilica of Our Lady of the Children in Châteauneuf-sur-Cher, France. Olive Titus, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Academic Expenses

Rich people don’t need to worry about the cost of college educations. The rest of us do (or, at least, we should). C.S. Lewis could not rely on family wealth to pursue his academic dreams, and we can learn from his example.

My wife and I were the first members of our respective families to attend college. Without assistance from our parents, we did chose the most fiscally responsible path. We opted for a public university (in my own case, via “community college”) and worked as many hours a week as we could while maintaining our grades.

Even this would have been far more difficult without receiving student loans, which we diligently repaid following our graduations.

Years later, we were in a position to help our own children pursue their higher educational aspirations. Still, graduate degrees are not inexpensive, and all three of them received government-backed loans to get them to the finish line.

They have been diligently repaying that borrowed money since graduation and never complained about the debt, since no one coerced them to accept it.

Our daughter, in fact, made significant sacrifices to pay off her student loans as quickly as possible, and accomplished that goal far earlier than we imagined she would.

Here at Mere Inkling, we go to great lengths to avoid political partisanship. In addition to that, I’ve made it quite clear I have no illusions about understanding economics.

Nevertheless, it requires no genius intellect to imagine how people who sacrificed to pay off their personal debts feel about now having to (thorough their taxes) also pay off the sometimes-delinquent debts of their peers. Our middle class family is only one of presumably millions who are experiencing this personally today.

Who Paid for C.S. Lewis’ Collegiate Studies?

The world has changed much since C.S. Lewis left home for boarding school and ultimately, for the university. It was unsurprising that when his father was widowed while his sons were young, he entrusted them to schools where he assumed they would be safe, and well prepared for their future professions.

Once the boys were old enough to choose career paths, Warnie (1895-1973) pursued a military profession. Following graduation from the U.K.’s Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, he served in both World Wars. However, as one writer accurately notes, “perhaps Warnie could have accomplished far more, but his lifelong struggles with alcoholism kept him from doing so. Some have speculated Warnie’s alcoholism resulted in an earlier retirement from the military than he would have wished.”

As for the younger Lewis scion, Clive would eventually make major contributions on the faculties of both Oxford and Cambridge Universities.

Getting there took some time, and was interrupted by the First World War. After his recuperation as a seriously wounded veteran of the trenches, Lewis renewed his academic studies. Discovery Institute has an excellent article describing “C.S. Lewis and the Ceremonies at Oxford University (1917-1925).” I particularly enjoy Kathryn Lindskoog’s understatement that “Oxford University, in Lewis’s time and since, is not the best place to learn Christian humility . . .”

As a student, Lewis was reliant on continuing support from his father. Only after graduating and beginning to receive a stipend as a Fellow of Magdalen College in 1925, did Lewis consider himself financially independent. (The year prior he had received a modest salary from the college, as an employee of the College, but it was inadequate to meet his needs.)

During his college studies, despite a scholarship, he relied on his father’s generosity. His opening in a 1919 letter to his father illustrates this relationship.

Many thanks for your letter and also for the enclosed cheque for £19.12.8. That amount includes all the charges both for tuition and college expenses and may serve as a base for future calculation, tho’ of course there may be slight differences from term to term.

Still, even in the best of families, financial considerations may become a matter of concern. Five years later, as he was at the end of his life as a student, his father was wondering when he would become satisfactorily employed. (That’s a conversation replayed around the globe on a daily basis.) The first two paragraphs illustrate the theme, but you won’t be disappointed if you have the time to read the entire passage.

And now to business. The Univ. Fellowship has not been filled up. You may have read in the papers that a new ‘Chaplain Fellow’ has been elected, but that of course is a different job. If I don’t mention it, it is because there is nothing new to say about it. Just at present a new and very good vacancy at Trinity (I mean Trinity, Oxford of course) has appeared, for which an election is to be held in the summer, and I shall certainly go in for it.

As to money: I had rather you had explained in detail what you ‘don’t follow’ in my arithmetic, but I trust there is nothing seriously wrong with the figures I gave you and will proceed accordingly. What is more serious is your reference to £30 extras last year. The only part of this which I can at present identify are the extra tuition and the book bill. The former of course was purely abnormal and will not occur again. The book bill was naturally increased by my turning to a new subject.

I try to use the libraries as much as possible: but when one is reading for a particular exam there are over a hundred other people taking the same books out of the libraries – and of course there are some things one must have at command. My expenditure on books will be less in future. I have a book bill due to be paid some time soon which is under five pounds: if you will pay that I think I can undertake to find myself for books in the future – tho’ since you tell me to be frank, I will say that this may not always be easy.

The rest of the £30 you mention is, I suppose, made up by items of clothing. I presume it does not include my two suits? As to clothing, I’m afraid that even if you increase my allowance as you suggest, I cannot undertake to find myself.

I mean that my loss of the scholarship and my outlay on clothes would not be balanced by an addition of £40 or £50. I cannot see how to cut down my expenses on clothing. You know I think that it does not go to fancy waistcoats or kid gloves. And I have some ties that date from before the war!

Flannel trousers are an item that I have to repeat pretty often: they ARE ill wearing things, but if I didn’t wear them I should need suits more often than I do. On shoes I admit that I am hard and have to get a good deal of ‘soling’ done: but I am afraid this reads rather as if I were defending myself against a charge of extravagance, which you will justly reply you never made: but you must not think that. I am only trying to put down the facts of the question as they actually occur to me from day to day in order to make my conclusion more reasonable and intelligible to you.

And the conclusion is this. You ask me where £85 a term to ‘cover everything’ would be sufficient. If by ‘covering everything’ you mean covering my books, shoes, shirts, socks and other items that I have hitherto sent you, I am afraid it would not. As I said, if you wish it, I will try to undertake my own books in the future, and, at any rate to cut them down.

I will also abandon the new dinner jacket suit that was mooted, and you must not imagine that I would feel that sort of curtailment as any hardship. As for a new overcoat, the one you gave me when I left home suits and fits me so well that the question need not be considered. But I do not think that I can manage to keep myself in minor articles of clothing.

I’m afraid this may seem to you but a charter of indefinite expenses for the future. Well then, to say all, if it is too much, you must tell me so. You have done all and more than all I can expect of you, and if you tell me that these extra years are too heavy, I assure you that I shall never, even in my secret thought, criticise such a decision.

If on the other hand, you see fit to lodge £85 a year and to pay for such extras in the way of clothing, etc. as may occur, I will try to make them as little as I can. I must point out however that it is much easier to save on the big items I have mentioned – the dress suit and overcoat – than on those necessary articles which have so often to be replaced.

If you will give me a dress suit when I get a job, I ought to be able to tide over these years without any more ‘suitings’ from you at all. If, till they are over, you can lodge £85 a term and make it retrospective for the present year, while paying for my smaller articles of clothing, I think I can manage. And whether you can do this or not, I have nothing but deepest gratitude for the past.

So, once again we see that C.S. Lewis’ experiences were not all that different from our own. Most people who have accepted their parents’ financial aid during their adulthood, can identify with Lewis’ mixture of sincere gratitude and muted frustration.

Perhaps it is a very good thing that today we have so many different assistance programs for potential students. Good things, I believe, as long as they are not abused – and borrowers pay them back, as they promised.

Inklings, Libraries & Architecture

If you were to embark on a university education today, which sort of campus would you prefer?

(1) A university featuring “vaulted ceilings that draw the eye upwards and outwards . . . the frivolous artistic detail that announces the importance of the unimportant [or] the interplay of light and shade that marks the great Gothic masterpieces, the brilliant proportions of the best classical buildings, and the elaborate grandeur of the Baroque.”

(2) A modern campus comprised of “buildings entirely lacking in charm, grace, or playfulness [featuring] the boxy utilitarian grimness of official educational architecture.”

A second question clearly betrays my own preference. Which academic setting do you imagine C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and their fellow Inklings would most esteem? Tolkien, after all, was not complaining in a letter to his future bride when he wrote “I have got to go to the college library now and get filthy amongst dusty books . . .”

The quotations included in the choices above come from a thought-provoking essay just posted on the website of First Things. The British writer, Niall Gooch, melds wit and genuine insight as he offers an answer to the question “Why are Universities So Ugly?” I highly commend it to you.

Libraries are of particular interest to many of us who treasure the Inkling ethos. And the article includes a delightful discussion of the treasure houses “now called ‘Information Centers’ or ‘Knowledge Hubs.’”

Books increasingly appear to be an afterthought, squeezed into the small spaces not occupied by banks of computers or the glass rooms designated as group work areas. Quiet has been banished to special Silent Study rooms, where those dangerous oddballs who wish to sit still by themselves and concentrate on one thing for a long period can be safely segregated from the normal people.

Inkling Libraries at Cambridge and Oxford

In 1959, C.S. Lewis wrote to T.S. Eliot. Both men served on the Commission to Revise the Psalter. Lewis mentions that he will be hosting an upcoming meeting of the Commission at Cambridge, and that he had secured one of the libraries for their use.

I can’t find the name and address of the secretary of our Commission on the Psalms. As you are in London could you kindly let her know that I have rescued the use of the inner library at Magdalene for our July session? It would be convenient if she told me – for the benefit of the servants – what our daily hours of sitting are likely to be. I also look forward to it.

Although Magdalene College has a distinguished history, it too has joined the revolution offering more contemporary Information Centers. They proudly declare “The New Library is . . . a purpose-built space in College for Magdalene students to meet, work, relax and find inspiration.”

As for the “Inner Library,” to which Lewis referred, I believe it to be what is presently called “The Old Library.” It fittingly includes among its special collections, “the books and manuscripts of T.S. Eliot (Honorary Fellow).”

A revealing history of “The Architectural Evolution of Libraries” begins with the question: “Can you have a civilized society without a library?”

In this article, we trace the typology of the library through history, highlighting twelve of the most important libraries in the world, from Ancient Alexandria to Raleigh, North Carolina, where robots retrieve books from storage.

A fitting close to our consideration of libraries comes from a letter written by J.R.R. Tolkien in 1966. The English Faculty of Oxford University had commissioned a bust of Tolkien – to be sculpted by his daughter-in-law. It presently resides in the English Faculty Library, which undoubtedly displays the elegant architecture of the classical university.

I feel much honoured, and so also does my daughter-in-law (the sculptress), by the Faculty’s wish to place the bust of me in the English Library in some prominent position – if on second thoughts you do not think a storied urn would be better. I shall be most pleased to present it to the Faculty.

It occurs to me that the plaster bust is rather fragile and very easily damaged. I suggest, therefore, that I should have it cast in bronze for presentation (at my own cost). I have already referred the matter to the sculptress who knows how these things are done.

Once in bronze it would then be unaffected by any dignities or indignities offered to it. I often used to hang my hat on the Tsar of Russia’s bust, which he graciously presented to Merton.


The illustration accompanying today’s post is the bust of Tolkien referred to in his correspondence. (In light of this column’s discussion, one can hardly ignore the rather utilitarian architecture revealed through the window behind the celebrated author.)

C.S. Lewis & Rigmarole

I hope my confusion is not due to a decline in my mental faculties. But it seems to me politicians are becoming even more incoherent than they’ve always been.

Is it me? Or, are you also amazed at how some of them appear to be babbling half the time?

C.S. Lewis was a master of communication. And some of his observations about how poorly some people communicate can be insightful.

Listen to this verse from a poem entitled “The Prudent Jailer” which he wrote in 1947. (It deserves to be read out loud.)

Some walls cannot a prison make
Half so secure as rigmarole.*

Lewis wasn’t referring to political jargon when he wrote this poem, but it seems quite apropos in a number of contexts.

For example, consider a recent article from the American Institute for Economic Research. Jon Sanders applies Lewis’ poem to foreboding aspects the government’s response to the pandemic.

The poem originated not in political allegory, but as a critique of unimaginative literary criticism. Notwithstanding, the Jailer is a diabolical figure, and his prudence is this: he imprisons with words, not walls. . . .

The Jailer has them imprisoned by their own thoughts, while he keeps them focused ever on the presumption of a prison. He doesn’t want them thinking of anything else.

This post isn’t about politics. I detest the subject as a whole, and find it particularly corrosive to conversation as elections draw near.

The verse I cited above simply evoked for me the power of words to distort and, yes, imprison. Lewis’ use of rigmarole⁑ (a word sadly out of vogue) highlights the fact that the crippling words themselves are often nonsensical.

Other colorful synonyms that we might hear in the company of our seniors could include balderdash, poppycock, or perhaps even malarkey.

In a 1940 letter to Dom Bede Griffiths, Lewis applies “balderdash” to describe art and literature done “for their own sake.”

I do most thoroughly agree with what you say about Art and Literature. To my mind they are only healthy when they are either (a) Definitely the handmaids of religious, or at least moral, truth – or (b) Admittedly aiming at nothing but innocent recreation or entertainment. . . .

But the great serious irreligious art – art for art’s sake – is all balderdash; and, incidentally, never exists when art is really flourishing.

Fortunately, such words rarely become completely obsolete.

A noteworthy mythopoeic⁂ scholar, Brenton Dickieson, used “balderdash” quite skillfully not that long ago.

“The Prudent Jailer” was originally published in 1947 under the mundane title, “The Romantics.”

Since you’ve read this column to its conclusion, allow me to reward your diligence by presenting the poem in its entirety.

The Prudent Jailer

Always the old nostalgia? Yes.
We still remember times before
We had learned to wear the prison dress
Or steel rings rubbed our ankles sore.

Escapists? Yes. Looking at bars
And chains, we think of files; and then
Of black nights without moon or stars
And luck befriending hunted men.

Still when we hear the trains at night
We envy the free travelers, whirled
In how few moments past the sight
Of the blind wall that bounds our world.

Our Jailer (well may he) prefers
Our thoughts should keep a narrower range.
‘The proper study of prisoners
is prison,’ he tells us. Is it strange?

And if old freedom in our glance
Betrays itself, he calls it names
‘Dope’-‘Wishful thinking’-or ‘Romance,’
Till tireless propaganda tames.

All but the strong whose hearts they break,
All but the few whose faith is whole.
Some walls cannot a prison make
Half so secure as rigmarole.


* Thank you to Jon whose comment below pointed out the connection between Lewis’ allusion to the very famous poem “To Althea, from Prison,” written by Richard Lovelace in 1642. “Stone walls doe not a prison make, Nor iron bars a cage…”

⁑ Some people in the States will be more familiar with the variant “rigamarole.”

⁂ Mythopoeia is a modern literary genre in which the author creates a fictional mythology. The finest example of such writing comes from the pen of J.R.R. Tolkien, the creator of Middle Earth.

CS Lewis | Mountains

Deep Thoughts from the Quill of the Other C.S. Lewis

Welcome to another in an occasional series of fictitious quotations from a fabricated contemporary of the great Oxbridge professor, Clive Staples Lewis.

The C.S. Lewis who authored these questionable observations, Clyde Scissors Lewis, possessed a worldview enigmatically different from that of the esteemed Christian author. Despite the fact that their two lives overlapped in a variety of ways, the similarities were superficial.

A brief biography of the lesser Lewis is available at this link.

The Other C.S. Lewis: A Brief Biography

By all means, do not confuse the wisdom of the genuine article with his shadowy counterfeit. Despite any cursory similarities between the two men, this is most definitely not the C.S. Lewis readers have come to know and love.


If one measures from the center of the planet, due to the equatorial bulge, Mount Chimborazo in Ecuador is the “tallest” mountain on our planet.

C.S. Lewis on Stupidity

Just because someone did something extraordinarily stupid does not mean that another fool should repeat the act. And C.S. Lewis would agree.

This summer a (likely unemployed) Coloradan decided to push a peanut to the top of Pikes Peak – a 14,115 foot American landmark – using his nose. Talk about stupid. His ambition was to be the first person in the twenty-first century to accomplish this pseudo-impressive goal.

That’s right, “in the twenty-first century.” Oddly, he is the fourth man (women are too intelligent, IMHO) to waste time in this pursuit, but the others proved their mettle in the twentieth century.

Simple stupidity is not the oddest motivator of irrational actions. Some people feel compelled to pursue death-defying activities. Those of us who would prefer to avoid danger whenever possible, are confused by others who embrace it.

Quite recently, “the body of an American mountaineer whose daring achievements brought her acclaim among some of the world’s most elite climbers was found . . . on a peak in Nepal.” Apparently, she climbed the “world’s eighth-highest peak” so she could ski down from its peak.

Hilaree Nelson, 49, and her romantic and climbing partner, Jim Morrison, were trying to ski down Manaslu . . . An avalanche apparently blew her off a cliff onto the south face of the mountain, opposite of their intended route of descent.

Tragic, most would agree. Foolish, many would add.

Doing something silly falls lower on the FDS (foolishness disorder spectrum) than does taking arbitrary and utterly unnecessary risks.

C.S. Lewis offers some interesting counsel to a woman who shared concern about the marital frustrations of someone close to her. (Yes, people actively sought his advice.) He ranks ignorance very low on the scale of relationship problems.

It is a great joy to be able to ‘feel’ God’s love as a reality, and one must give thanks for it and use it. But you must be prepared for the feeling dying away again, for feelings are by nature impermanent.

The great thing is to continue to believe when the feeling is absent: & these periods do quite as much for one as those when the feeling is present. It sounds to me as if Genia had a pretty good husband on the whole.

So much matrimonial misery comes to me in my mail that I feel those whose partner has no worse fault than being stupider than themselves may be said to have drawn a prize! It hardly amounts to a Problem. (Correspondence, 1953).

So it is, that while obviously undesirable, stupidity is not a bad thing in itself. In “The World’s Last Night,” Lewis includes the trait in a curious list. And the passage suggests to me the dangers implicit in allowing one‘s ignorance to jeopardize their wellbeing.

Perfect love, we know, casteth out fear. But so do several other things – ignorance, alcohol, passion, presumption, and stupidity.

It is very desirable that we should all advance to that perfection of love in which we shall fear no longer; but it is very undesirable, until we have reached that stage, that we should allow any inferior agent to cast out our fear.

It is precisely when what I would identify as stupidity inspires dangerous activities, that C.S. Lewis would rule it to be detrimental. And this brings us to the question of why some few people do what the majority of us “saner” people would avoid.

Why Do People Pursue Risky Activities

For our discussion here, I am not including people who face danger due to their vocations. Doubtless some “first responders” and military members relish brushes with death, but they are in the minority. Most are not eager to court death.

It has been debated as to why some people are drawn to the most hazardous of so-called “extreme sports.” The uncharitable might attribute a vulnerability to the siren call of danger to mere stupidity, but there are other factors at work.

However, some people are conditioned by their upbringing to participate in unsafe behaviors (e.g. base jumping, smoking or alligator wrestling). And, in recent years, we have been hearing more about genetic dispositions to such activities. It appears there is some merit to the notion of there being a “risk taking gene.”

A major 2019 study reported in in Nature Genetics “identified . . . 99 [genetic] loci associated with general risk tolerance.” An accessible discussion of the study says, “the genetic variants identified in the study open a new avenue of research on the biological mechanisms that influence a person’s willingness to take risks.”

In any case, DNA is only one, limited factor. Researchers confirmed “non-genetic factors matter more for risk tolerance than genetic factors. The study shows evidence of shared genetic influences across both an overall measure of risk tolerance and many specific risky behaviors.”

Lacking the fear gene is not quite the same thing as being courageous. As noted above, a person may face danger because of a valid reason. Thus “first responders” and most military members I served as a chaplain were not foolhardy. They didn’t take unnecessary risks. But most were willing to place themselves between very real threats and those they were protecting.

If you personally are of an adventurous nature, I encourage you to take sensible precautions. Avoiding rafting on Class VI rapids and cave diving – anywhere – would be a good place to start..

And for the less daring among us, perhaps we can avoid foolish pursuits that are merely a waste of time. It seems apparent to me that time spent serving others in a food bank, or mowing the lawn of a disabled neighbor, constitute a far better use of our time.

CS Lewis | Mistakes

Deep Thoughts from the Quill of the Other C.S. Lewis

Welcome to another in an occasional series of fictitious quotations from a fabricated contemporary of the great Oxbridge professor, Clive Staples Lewis.

The C.S. Lewis who authored these questionable observations, Clyde Scissors Lewis, possessed a worldview enigmatically different from that of the esteemed Christian author. Despite the fact that their two lives overlapped in a variety of ways, the similarities were superficial.

A brief biography of the lesser Lewis is available at this link.

The Other C.S. Lewis: A Brief Biography

By all means, do not confuse the wisdom of the genuine article with his shadowy counterfeit. Despite any cursory similarities between the two men, this is most definitely not the C.S. Lewis readers have come to know and love.

CS Lewis | Emptiness

Deep Thoughts from the Quill of the Other C.S. Lewis

Welcome to another in an occasional series of fictitious quotations from a fabricated contemporary of the great Oxbridge professor, Clive Staples Lewis.

The C.S. Lewis who authored these questionable observations, Clyde Scissors Lewis, possessed a worldview enigmatically different from that of the esteemed Christian author. Despite the fact that their two lives overlapped in a variety of ways, the similarities were superficial.

A brief biography of the lesser Lewis is available at this link.

The Other C.S. Lewis: A Brief Biography

By all means, do not confuse the wisdom of the genuine article with his shadowy counterfeit. Despite any cursory similarities between the two men, this is most definitely not the C.S. Lewis readers have come to know and love.

C.S. Lewis & a Horse Named Fledge

C.S. Lewis was not alone in recognizing horses are magnificent creatures. Many of us share his appreciation for the more than 300 breeds that comprise the equine family.

Horses hold a prominent place in Lewis’ zoologically rich fantasies. In the Chronicles of Narnia, we encounter many Talking Horses. Among them are Bree, the titular hero of The Horse and His Boy, and Hwin, the heroine who teaches Bree what it means to be a Narnian.

But before Bree and Hwin galloped across the fields and plains of Narnia, a horse from Earth was transported to that Land at the hour of its very creation.* And there, Aslan anointed this modest draft horse⁑ to become the progenitor of a race of pegasi. Fledge’s story is quite inspiring.

Fledge was once named Strawberry, and pulled a Hansom cab in London. But after journeying to Narnia, Aslan chose him to be one of the very first Talking Animals, and granted him wings.

Would You Like Wings?” offers an illuminating meditation on this transformation.

So Strawberry, in this first stage, goes from beast to person. From a dream to wakefulness. From slavery to freedom. From silence to speech, from witless to intelligent.

From C.S. Lewis’ account of the “miraculous” event:

He then turned to the Horse who had been standing quietly beside them all this time, swishing his tail to keep the flies off, and listening with his head on one side as if the conversation were a little difficult to understand. “My dear,” said Aslan to the Horse, “would you like to be a winged horse?”

You should have seen how the Horse shook its mane and how its nostrils widened, and the little tap it gave the ground with one back hoof. Clearly it would very much like to be a winged horse. But it only said: “If you wish, Aslan – if you really mean – I don’t know why it should be me – I’m not a very clever horse.”

“Be winged. Be the father of all flying horses,” roared Aslan in a voice that shook the ground. “Your name is Fledge.” The horse shied . . . It strained its neck back as if there were a fly biting its shoulders and it wanted to scratch them. And then, just as the beasts had burst out of the earth, there burst out from the shoulders of Fledge wings that spread and grew, larger than eagles’, larger than swans’, larger than angels’ wings in church windows. . . .

“Is it good, Fledge?” said Aslan.

“It is very good, Aslan,” said Fledge.

When Aslan sends Polly and Digory on a quest with Fledge, they camp for the night and enjoy a delightful human~animal conversation (much like I would anticipate having with the deer that visit our yard daily, should they be graced with speech).

“And my wings are beginning to ache,” said Fledge. “There’s no sign of the valley with a Lake in it, like what Aslan said. What about coming down and looking out for a decent spot to spend the night in? We shan’t reach that place tonight.”

“Yes, and surely it’s about time for supper?” said Digory. So Fledge came lower and lower. As they came down nearer to the earth and among the hills, the air grew warmer and after traveling so many hours with nothing to listen to but the beat of Fledge’s wings . . .

A warm, good smell of sun-baked earth and grass and flowers came up to them. . . . “I am hungry,” said Digory.

“Well, tuck in,” said Fledge, taking a big mouthful of grass. Then he raised his head, still chewing and with bits of grass sticking out on each side of his mouth like whiskers, and said, “Come on, you two. Don’t be shy. There’s plenty for us all.”

“But we can’t eat grass,” said Digory.

“H’m, h’m,” said Fledge, speaking with his mouth full. “Well—h’m—don’t know quite what you’ll do then. Very good grass too.”

Polly and Digory stared at one another in dismay. “Well, I do think someone might have arranged about our meals,” said Digory.

“I’m sure Aslan would have, if you’d asked him,” said Fledge. “Wouldn’t he know without being asked?” said Polly. “I’ve no doubt he would,” said the Horse (still with his mouth full). “But I’ve a sort of idea he likes to be asked.”

“But what on earth are we to do?” asked Digory.

“I’m sure I don’t know,” said Fledge. “Unless you try the grass. You might like it better than you think.” (The Magician’s Nephew).⁂

In C.S. Lewis’ first story about Narnia, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, we read about the “statues” that surround the castle of the White Witch. Edmund has been corrupted by the Witch, and told that Aslan is dangerous.

The Witch has the power to turn living creatures to stone. When Edmund discovers a lion in her garden, he is delighted. But the lion is not alone.

The relief which Edmund felt was so great that in spite of the cold he suddenly got warm all over right down to his toes, and at the same time there came into his head what seemed a perfectly lovely idea. “Probably,” he thought, “this is the great Lion Aslan that they were all talking about. She’s caught him already and turned him into stone. So that’s the end of all their fine ideas about him! Pooh! Who’s afraid of Aslan?”

And he stood there gloating over the stone lion, and presently he did something very silly and childish. He took a stump of lead pencil out of his pocket and scribbled a mustache on the lion’s upper lip and then a pair of spectacles on its eyes. Then he said, “Yah! Silly old Aslan! How do you like being a stone? You thought yourself mighty fine, didn’t you?”

But in spite of the scribbles on it the face of the great stone beast still looked so terrible, and sad, and noble, staring up in the moonlight, that Edmund didn’t really get any fun out of jeering at it. He turned away and began to cross the courtyard.

As he got into the middle of it he saw that there were dozens of statues all about – standing here and there rather as the pieces stand on a chessboard when it is halfway through the game. There were stone satyrs, and stone wolves, and bears and foxes and cat-a-mountains of stone. . . . a winged horse and a long lithe creature that Edmund took to be a dragon (The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe).

I find the description of the lion quite provocative. “. . . so terrible, and sad, and noble.” That is exactly what I experienced when I saw the model for a “war horse” memorial in Romsey, England. The artists have done a brilliant job. The sorrow overflows from it eyes.

True, my impression is influenced by the outstanding 2011 film titled War Horse. If you’ve never seen this Spielberg gem, I encourage you to watch it and challenge you to do so without shedding a tear.

Horses have long been used in war. That is not what God created them for, but fallen humanity has often harnessed their power for combat. Some of their names are remembered today, including Bucephalus, Copenhagen, Cincinnati, and Traveler.

Returning to Fledge, we find a horse not only experiencing the fullness of his equine nature, but receiving blessings unimagined.


* C.S. Lewis did not compose the seven volumes of the Chronicles of Narnia chronologically. This has led to different opinions on the order in which the books should be read.

⁑ Draught horse, to you Brits.

⁂ While I typed this, a doe and her two fawns were peacefully grazing on our clover-seeded lawn, just a few feet away, outside my office window. [I’m sure they would have happily shared with me.]