Archives For C.S. Lewis

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When you get to a certain age, most writers will consider, at least momentarily, penning an autobiography. Often, aware the effort will invite charges of vanity, they will opt to call it a memoir. Whatever the label, the result is the same.

Writers are faced with the question—and they alone can answer it—as to whether or not there is any value in the preservation of notes about their life journey.

I would argue that there is a clear benefit, even when no one else will read it. Self-reflection, in and of itself, enriches one’s life. Even if it is painful, it can be therapeutic. And, since we’re still alive as we examine our past, time remains to rectify some of the mistakes we have made.

This very process of looking at our lives invites us to question our motives for recording these stories. And, if we’re considering merely to praise ourselves, it would be best to abstain.

On the other hand, it seems to me that many “normal” lives can validly serve as an inspiration to others. (I don’t presume my own effort would fit into this category.)

Here is the reason why I’m actually contemplating assembling some notes for a near-the-end-of-my-earthly-sojourn document. It just might be of interest to some of my descendants. I have often wished to have just such a jewel written by my own ancestors.

Putting myself in the place of my great-grandchildren, etc., I suspect some of them and their own grandchildren might be curious about an ancient progenitor. In fact, the more such records, the fuller the picture they stand to gain of their lineage.

The key, I think, to writing a worthwhile memoir is honesty. If we share our challenges and failures, the volume will not only be more interesting, if may offer our descendants encouragement in their own struggles.

As a man vulnerable to the sin of pride, I’m cautious about proceeding. I pulled this disarming contrast from a book review written several years ago by theologian Carl Trueman.

Autobiographies are typically opportunities for the display of ego and the rationalizing of error. They have been so at least since Julius Caesar’s military memoirs. In our day, it is not just politicians and military leaders who indulge in this.

One thinks of the memoirs of Hans Küng: names dropped on every page, always with the purpose of reminding the reader how important—and how correct—Küng has been over the years on every significant issue and how unfairly he has been treated by his mediocre opponents.

Autobiography need not be so, as this volume [A Change of Heart] by Thomas Oden shows. Though Oden seems to have known everyone who was anyone in the theological world of the last sixty years, from Barth and Niebuhr to Dulles, Ratzinger, and Wojtjyla, there is no sense of ego. Names are regularly dropped but no self is ever promoted. Oden is a humble, fascinating, and important man blissfully unaware of the fact.

I’ve had the good fortune to meet several people during my life whose names would be familiar to you. But, God be merciful, I prefer to be an Oden rather than a Küng.

C.S. Lewis was a man like the former, “humble, fascinating and important.” Yet, despite the accolades he received from some quarters, he remained blissfully unaware of the fact that God would continue using his words to inspire others so many decades after he joined his Lord in Paradise.

A Worthy Exemplar

Lewis resisted writing about himself. Not out of a false modesty, but due to a desire to maintain personal privacy and a genuine sense that his life was neither particularly inspirational nor unique. Nevertheless, if it were possible that sharing about his life could help others, he was willing to do so.

His works are sprinkled with autobiographical commentary. His vast correspondence also provides great insight into his life. In 1955, he wrote a traditional autobiography, primarily to explain his conversion.

He entitled it Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life. As he begins in the Preface:

This book is written partly in answer to requests that I would tell how I passed from Atheism to Christianity and partly to correct one or two false notions that seem to have got about.

He describes his approach, noting how it differs from what readers might expect.

The book aims at telling the story of my conversion and is not a general autobiography, still less “Confessions” like those of St. Augustine or Rousseau.

This means in practice that it gets less like a general autobiography as it goes on. In the earlier chapters the net has to be spread pretty wide in order that, when the explicitly spiritual crisis arrives, the reader may understand what sort of person my childhood and adolescence had made me.

When the “build-up” is complete, I confine myself strictly to business and omit everything (however important by ordinary biographical standards) which seems, at that stage, irrelevant.

I do not think there is much loss; I never read an autobiography in which the parts devoted to the earlier years were not far the most interesting. The story is, I fear, suffocatingly subjective; the kind of thing I have never written before and shall probably never write again.

I have tried so to write the first chapter that those who can’t bear such a story will see at once what they are in for and close the book with the least waste of time.

A Naked Autobiography

As fascinating as Surprised by Joy is, there exists another volume in which the mature Lewis bared his soul as have few others. When he lost his wife, Lewis experienced a profound sorrow that he described in A Grief Observed. So vulnerable was his writing, that Lewis published it under a pseudonym.

In 1988, Madeleine L’Engle penned a Foreword to the book, which now appears under Lewis’ own name.

In the end, what shines through the last pages of his journal of grief is an affirmation of love, his love for Joy and hers for him, and that love is in the context of God’s love.

No easy or sentimental comforts are offered, but the ultimate purpose of God’s love for all of us human creatures is love.

Reading A Grief Observed is to share not only in C. S. Lewis’s grief but in his understanding of love, and that is richness indeed.

Lewis was an exceptional writer, but I daresay that his life was little more amazing than your own. Certainly, Lewis’ life was no more precious to God than yours is.

I encourage you to consider writing (at the appropriate moment) your own memoir. This is particularly important if you have family who may be interested. But even if you don’t, consider writing.

Just remember to follow Lewis’ example and try “to write the first chapter that those who can’t bear such a story will see at once what they are in for and close the book with the least waste of time.”

monopoly

It is almost too obvious to require saying: you reinforce the behaviors you reward. Why then, would any society intentionally train its youth to be dishonest?

One justification I’ve heard, more and more frequently in recent years, is that it’s all about winning—coming out on top. The motto of these folks is “do whatever it takes to win.” Yet this is a recipe for a disastrous life. In the words of Jesus: “what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?” (Luke 9:25)*

Our recreational choices say a lot about us and our values. Digital options have reduced the influence of board games, so one perennial favorite has devised a strategy to regain its market share.

Monopoly is based on accumulating wealth and, for the merciless, crushing one’s competitors. Some might argue that the capitalism which provides the basis for the game is corrupt in and of itself. Still, Monopoly has always had clear rules that governed actions.

But some players cheated. Capitalizing on this sinister impulse, Monopoly has created a new “Cheaters Edition.” Yes, you read that right.

Christian publications have announced the game’s arrival. The current issue of Citizen notes that even though cheating is actively encouraged in the game, negative consequences are also possible.

Mind you, it’s not that anything goes. Cheat successfully and you get rewarded; get caught and you get punished.

Even the “secular” Bloomberg review of the new game acknowledges the moral confusion of the product, closing its report with:

Clearly this begs some deeper philosophical questions about modern life and the future of morality and humanity, but, wait, did you just land on Boardwalk? Yes, I definitely always had a hotel on there! Trust me.

Nurturing Healthy Behaviors

One does not have to be a parent to recognize this wisdom of this Proverb: “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6).

In fact, even pet “owners” know the necessity of training (e.g. housebreaking) our canine and feline family members.

Many games highlight positive choices, consciously or subconsciously reinforcing good. The simplest and most common method for this process comes not in a board game or a digital alternative. It is found in verbal praise.

There is ongoing debate about the value of praise. It’s clear that insincere or mechanistic praise would be of insignificant worth, and potentially dangerous. Some psychologists go so far as to state that “Positive reinforcement can undercut a child’s intrinsic motivation.”

C.S. Lewis understood that we cannot manufacture our own motivations.

I cannot, by direct moral effort, give myself new motives. After the first few steps in the Christian life we realise that everything which really needs to be done in our souls can be done only by God (Mere Christianity).

Despite this truth, it is also argued that our character can be shaped, in a sense, by consciously and repeatedly choosing to do what is right. Gradually then, by God’s grace, obedience may gradually give way to a more honest and natural motivation as the positive paths become our normal, well-traveled path.

This is not simply a “Christian” concern. The philosopher Aristotle noted “Good habits formed during youth make all the difference.” (What do you think Aristotle would think about the Cheater’s Edition of Monopoly?)

C.S. Lewis would doubtless concur with Aristotle. I assume most of Mere Inkling’s readers agree with the ancient wisdom as well.

A final thought. This cheater’s edition of Monopoly probably possesses less power to damage lives than Hasbro’s Ouijà board game. But that’s a subject for another day


* In Matthew 16 we read the more familiar “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?”

cheat card

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Those who despise C.S. Lewis seek to eradicate his influence in the Christian Church. They care not that Lewis remains one of the most effective Christian apologists the world has ever seen. Only the Lord knows how many people (literally) have been encouraged in the faith by Lewis’ ministry.

When examining Lewis’ theology, it is necessary to keep in mind several facts. First, he often reminded his readers that he was not a theologian, simply a faithful layman. Second, he formally espoused and practice the orthodox Trinitarian faith as professed by the Anglican communion. Third, Lewis consciously sought to introduce timeless truths to his readers via reason and, more effectively, through fiction and imagination. (The Great Divorce offers a fascinating yet fully fictional exploration of how purgatory might work.)

Thus, Lewis critics will always be able to gather fuel for the foot of his stake. A primary example of this comes in Lewis’ emotive receptivity to the doctrine of purgatory. It is taught only by the Roman Catholic Church, although individuals from other denominations may also be sympathetic to it.

For example, Protestant philosopher Jerry L. Walls includes a chapter in his recent book on purgatory entitled, “C.S. Lewis and the Prospect of Mere Purgatory.”

Although not a Roman Catholic, C.S. Lewis, the most popular Christian writer of the twentieth century, believed in purgatory. This is significant because his influence in Protestant and evangelical circles is perhaps especially strong.

This chapter shows not only that Lewis believed in purgatory, but also that it is integral to his theology of salvation. It explores how he understood the doctrine by examining his comments on Roman Catholic theologians John Fisher, Thomas More, and John Henry Newman. While he was quite critical of Fisher and More, he saw in Newman the recovery of the true substance and spirit of the doctrine.

It is fair for us to acknowledge that Lewis’ understanding of justification was imperfect. Salvation comes through faith (Romans 5:1), not through penitential or purgatorial efforts. But let’s read about his position in his own words. The following comes from Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer, which is, itself, a collection of thoughts “shared” with a fictional friend.

I believe in Purgatory.

Mind you, the Reformers had good reasons for throwing doubt on “the Romish doctrine concerning Purgatory” as that Romish doctrine had then become. . . .

The right view returns magnificently in Newman’s Dream.* There, if I remember it rightly, the saved soul, at the very foot of the throne, begs to be taken away and cleansed. It cannot bear for a moment longer “With its darkness to affront that light.” Religion has reclaimed Purgatory.

Our souls demand Purgatory, don’t they? Would it not break the heart if God said to us, “It is true, my son, that your breath smells and your rags drip with mud and slime, but we are charitable here and no one will upbraid you with these things, nor draw away from you. Enter into the joy”?

Should we not reply, “With submission, sir, and if there is no objection, I’d rather be cleaned first.”

“It may hurt, you know”

“Even so, sir.”

This is where I acknowledge Lewis’ view on justification to be deficient. Of course we would wish to be fully washed and clean before standing in our Creator’s presence. And that is precisely how we enter into his presence. Clothed not in our own filthiness and rags—but in the radiant righteousness of our Savior.

As the Apostle John wrote in his first epistle, “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. . . . If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:7, 9)

Lewis’ greatest contribution to the Christian Church is found in his skilled apologetics based on the core essence of our faith. Lewis communicated the divine hope that is within us in his lectures, speeches and broadcasts. But it was through the written word that his inspiring words have touched the greatest number of people.

On the Subject of Writing

It is possible that Lewis was familiar with the following advice from Newman about effective writing. Certainly, he agreed with a number of the cardinal’s literary precepts. The following passage relates specifically to writing sermons, but it possesses far broader application. It comes from The Life of John Henry Cardinal Newman.

Newman’s own feeling as to the most effective way of imparting truth by writing is conveyed in the following notes, dated 1868, on the writing of sermons:

A man should be in earnest, by which I mean he should write not for the sake of writing, but to bring out his thoughts.

He should never aim at being eloquent.

He should keep his idea in view, and should write sentences over and over again till he has expressed his meaning accurately, forcibly, and in few words.

He should aim at being understood by his hearers or readers.

He should use words which are likely to be understood. Ornament and amplification will come spontaneously in due time, but he should never seek them.

He must creep before he can fly, by which I mean that humility which is a great Christian virtue has a place in literary composition.

He who is ambitious will never write well, but he who tries to say simply what he feels, what religion demands, what faith teaches, what the Gospel promises, will be eloquent without intending it, and will write better English than if he made a study of English literature.

Reading this helpful advice from Cardinal Newman reminds us we can learn valuable lessons from people with differing theology. And that truth should be quite encouraging, since none of us possess perfect doctrine.


* The full title of the work to which Lewis refers here is The Dream of Gerontius. (You can read it here.)

 

finn father

What’s going on in Finland?

Having known a number of Finns (and being related by marriage to one) I’ve become moderately suspicious of people who choose to live where God only intended for reindeer to roam.

The Inklings were familiar with the Finns, and their myths fascinated J.R.R. Tolkien. According to BBC News:

Having fallen for the Finnish epic, the language-loving Tolkien was not content to read it only in translation. . . . In 1955 he told the poet W.H. Auden that discovering Finnish had been like “entering a complete wine-cellar filled with bottles of an amazing wine of a kind and flavour never tasted before.”

In 1916, C.S. Lewis had attempted to purchase a copy of the Finnish national myths for his friend Arthur Greeves, but was unsuccessful. “This morning I visited Mullans on your little job, but their copy of the Kalevala was much too old and shop-soiled to satisfy you.”

Doubtless he would eventually become familiar with the Kalevala through the agency of his good friend, Tolkien. (You can download your own copy, in two volumes, here and here.)*

Before reading on, we should dispel any false notions you might have about Finns being what we would call “normal.” Here are a few examples that suggest otherwise:

  • Hobby Horse Equestrian Competitions are serious events! | Many contestants practice their jumps and prancing several hours a day. It’s actually rather quaint when performed by children.
  • They are linguistically self-absorbed with their nearly extinct Finno-Ugric language tree. | As one blogger notes, “When Finns speak to you it sounds like they’re casting some sort of (probably totally evil) enchantment.”
  • They are either so environmentally conscious, or energy impoverished, that the Helsinki Sea Life Center has powered their Christmas tree lights using their electric eels. | Fortunately, the eels have eleven months each year to recharge.
  • Forget about yodeling. Finland has a Shouting Men’s Choir that is guaranteed to drive any non-Finn to the brink of insanity. | Mieskuoro Huutajat, the choir, is not above applying a sinister twist to the national anthems of other nations.
  • The Truman Show premise is alive and well in Finland. Although Ari Kivikangas is aware he’s under constant scrutiny. | Despite that, he has apparently chosen to make the video feed as boring as possible.
  • Finland has a popular “Take In” restaurant which seats fifty, but has no kitchen. |Diners have to order from other restaurants and have their food delivered so the Take In staff can serve it to them.
  • Veijo Rönkkönen created a bizarre sculpture park in which some of the creepy figures actually sport human teeth. | I believe it’s no coincidence the asylum lies within a kilometer of the Russian border. It is obviously part of the Finnish psychological warfare that keeps their imperialistic neighbors at bay.

It might be entertaining (or disturbing) to list other Finnish oddities, but a recent study revealed that they are also accomplishing something quite commendable that no other developed nation can match.

Finnish fathers spend more time with their school-aged children than do their mothers. The study suggests that Finnish men are succeeding where most of the world fails—their menfolk are actively parenting!

The praiseworthiness of that accomplishment should not be undermined by the fact that the daily interaction gulf between the genders comprises only eight minutes. Nor should we belittle the accomplishment because Finland offers astonishingly generous financial enticements to stay at home and play while someone with a strong Puritan work ethic would feel guilty.

Despite the peripheral factors, number one is number one. Kudos to the fathers of Finland!

Addressing Finn “Peculiarities”

I’ve thought long and hard about how we can gently draw the Finnish clans towards a more sensible lifestyle. Parenting aside, their oddities remain too many to count. I have fallen upon a solution.

This parenting news reveals there is still hope for the Finnish people. The rest of the world now needs to work with urgency to have all of C.S. Lewis’ works translated into Finnish.

Sadly, while it appears Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia have been published in their tongue, those inveterate sauna-lovers desperately need access to Lewis’ nonfiction.

If you are interested in helping the Finns—something that would make J.R.R. Tolkien very happy—please visit my GoFundMe page.**


The Finnish father in the picture above celebrates the length of his daughter’s ponytail, and demonstrates what his daily hobby horse exercises have done for his quadriceps.

* An audio recording of Kalevala in English is available at Internet Archive.

** Just joking. We don’t solicit funds at Mere Inkling, even for worthy causes such as this.

Varo Suomalaisia

bible translation

So it turns out that C.S. Lewis was not only a writer. He was also a translator. And his partial translation of Vergil’s Aeneid has finally been published, a half century after his passing. Before reading on—about his even greater translation work—you should take a minute to read the initial post on this subject.

Many people are frustrated that various works are not available in their own language. This is even true in English, where thousands of ancient Christian documents and manuscripts are only available in their original language or perhaps German or French.

Surely, we think, there are many people who read those languages and English. Why don’t they help the rest of us out by making these works accessible for the linguistically-challenged?

Naturally, translation is a more complicated task. First, one must have the rights to translating a given work. Then they must have an incentive, which is only occasionally pecuniary. And, if we are to receive a good translation, they require skill.

C.S. Lewis knew that he was not a translator in the literal sense of the word. This awareness did not frustrate him. On the contrary, he commended translators based on his perception of their talents. He chose to focus on the role of theological translation God had appointed for him.

Lewis astutely recognized that due to gradual changes in word meanings and cultural norms, even effective translations can grow ineffective over time. He discussed this in an essay on why the English Bible needed periodic re-interpretation to remain vital. As one Lewis blogger says:

[Lewis] compares refusing to change a translation to attempting to buy clothes for your child “once and for all.” That is a pointless exercise because the child will grow and change. The clothes are designed to only fit them at a certain stage of their life.

The same is true for a translation. It was translated with a certain audience in mind—those that were alive and speaking the language when the translation was first released.

No translator can make a version that is perfectly suited for an audience 100 years in the future. He translates for his own age and trusts those coming after him to do the same.

Lewis did acknowledge that he had a divine appointment as a translator of ecclesiastical religion into the common faith language of the average person. His brilliance in this work made him the preeminent Christian apologist of the twentieth century. He described this work in a letter in 1945, soliciting work for the Christian Workers Union.

I agree that it is essential for all ‘literature’ [the CWU] issues to its members to be a translation into the actual current speech of the people (It has always seemed to me odd that those who are sent to evangelise the Bantus begin by learning Bantu while the Church turns out annually curates to teach the English who simply don’t know the vernacular language of England).

But of course I can’t write a book for workers. I know nothing at all of the realities of factory life.

If one of you will write the book, I will translate it: i.e. instead of a book by me edited by you, you need a book by you edited by me. That is, if you really need me at all. But are you sure you do?

People praise me as a ‘translator,’ but what I want is to be the founder of a school of ‘translation.’ I am nearly forty-seven. Where are my successors?

Lewis continues, describing the process and emphasizing that any motivated person should be able to do as he does.

Anyone can learn to do it if they wish. It only involves first writing down in ordinary theological college English exactly what you want to say and then treating that just as you treated a piece of English set for Greek prose at school . . .

[He uses a contemporary example.] I read ‘There is no need for me to enlarge upon the wide-spread ignorance of Christian truth which is characteristic of our age and generation.’ The moment you started to consider ‘doing this into Greek prose’ you’d see you’d have to get rid of the noun ‘ignorance’ and that ‘characteristic’ would have to be ‘turned.’

So in turning it into the vernacular. It would finally come out something like ‘I need not waste time in telling you that very few people in modern England know what Christianity actually teaches. We need not at the moment ask why this is so or who ought to be blamed for it, etc.’

It is inconceivable that there is no one among you who can do this quite as well as I could: and it is far better that it should be done by those who know at first hand what needs to be said. So my advice is that you get on with it at once (it does one endless good of all sorts as a mere bye-product) and use me as a mere reviser if you want me at all.

(Remember that in the Vernacular creature means ‘beast,’ a being means a ‘person.’ Personal often means ‘corporeal,’ Primitive means ‘crude’ or ‘barbarous’, and avoid words like Challenge, Tribute and all newspaper clichés).

I feel I’m talking rather like a tutor—forgive me. But it is just a technique and I’m desperately anxious to see it widely learned.

Years later, during his debate with the liberal theologian Dr. Pittenger, he elaborated on how he interpreted his Christian vocation.

My task was therefore simply that of a translator—one turning Christian doctrine, or what he believed to be such, into the vernacular, into language that unscholarly people would attend to and could understand.

Lewis’ Invitation to You and Me

It’s certainly an interesting piece of correspondence. The most impressive part of the letter is Lewis’ deep hope that others would follow in his proverbial footsteps.

What I want is to be the founder of a school of ‘translation . . .’ Where are my successors?

I need to conduct more research into this concept. I am curious as to whether Lewis developed it more substantially during the final two decades of his life.

I believe we can honestly say Lewis accomplished this goal. Thousands of writers have been inspired by his example and encouragement to attempt to communicate the Gospel in words others can understand.

Lewis has been our tutor. And I, for one, am honored to proclaim that I’m a graduate of the C.S. Lewis School of Translation. Actually, emulating his honesty, I should more correctly say “I am honored to presently be studying at the C.S. Lewis School of Translation.”

I hope you will enroll alongside me. (Monolingualists welcome.)


The C.S. Lewis Institute has a brief discussion of the letter quoted above. They end with a question.

What about you? As you share the gospel with non-believers, or write or speak about Christian doctrine or current issues from a Christian perspective, do you “translate” what you have to say into the language and vocabulary the people you are communicating with understand and use?

translations

I have formally studied five different languages, but am competent only in (American) English. However, C.S. Lewis just encouraged me with the news that even monolingualists can be effective translators.

When we hear the word “translator,” particularly in literary contexts, we first think of those who formally translate works from their original language into an alternative language. Translation such as this requires deep familiarity with both languages.

Providing a good translation demands more. It requires an almost poetic skill in which not only the content, but also the spirit of the work is reproduced. When we include the names of translators alongside the authors, we should not minimize their contributions toward making these volumes accessible to us.

C.S. Lewis praised skilled translators. For example, in his brilliant introduction to a contemporary translation of Athanasius’ On the Incarnation, he closes with a contrast between being able to read something in its original language, and being qualified to effectively translate it.

When I first opened his De Incarnatione I soon discovered by a very simple test that I was reading a masterpiece. I knew very little Christian Greek except that of the New Testament and I had expected difficulties. To my astonishment I found it almost as easy as Xenophon; and only a master mind could, in the fourth century, have written so deeply on such a subject with such classical simplicity. . . .

The translator knows so much more Christian Greek than I that it would be out of place for me to praise her version. But it seems to me to be in the right tradition of English translation. I do not think the reader will find here any of that sawdusty quality which is so common in modern renderings from the ancient languages.

In his Panegyric for Dorothy L. Sayers, read at the author’s funeral, Lewis praised the breadth and quality of her literary output. Her translation of Dante had received numerous accolades, and he remarked on the nature of their most recent exchange.

Her later years were devoted to translation. The last letter I ever wrote to her was in acknowledgement of her Song of Roland, and I was lucky enough to say that the end-stopped lines and utterly unadorned style of the original must have made it a far harder job than Dante.

Lewis’ Foray into Translating the Classics

C.S. Lewis did venture at least once into the formal realm of translation. Several years ago, Yale University published a study of Lewis’ partial translation of the Aeneid. While it represents an initial, unedited effort, it is quite interesting in its own right.

You can read an expert, but generally unsympathetic, review of Lewis’ translation in Books & Culture. Sarah Ruden, a Quaker scholar and poet, finds Lewis’ translation of Vergil lacking. She writes:

We do want more C. S. Lewis, and why shouldn’t we have it, especially when it comes with extensive commentary? This book shows the translation as fascinating evidence of his formation, imagination, and critical drive. And yet, anyone looking in the translation for the clarity and verve characteristic of Lewis’ prose will be disappointed . . .

While Ruden’s judgment is too negative in my opinion, she does acknowledge that Lewis’ translation did not benefit from the normal critical review of such translations prior to publication.

But I can hardly be smug . . . similar [criticisms] could hit every passage of my own work if belligerent manuscript readers and editors hadn’t come to its rescue. Such people, of course, couldn’t do the same for Lewis’ translation once he was dead.

The simple truth is that Lewis never prepared these initial efforts with The Aeneid for publication. Lewis never focused his talents on the field of traditional translation between languages. He, in fact, pursued a far more important form of translation. In our next post we will explore what that means for both Lewis, and for each of us.


The picture at the top of the page is copyrighted by Mike Gruhn, who graciously offered Mere Inkling permission to reproduce it. You can enjoy more of his witty illustrations by visiting his Instagram account.

Degrees of Importance

March 29, 2018 — 9 Comments

swiss horn

Not all college degrees are created equal. Some are “marketable,” and lead to well compensated careers. Others do not necessarily make one “employable,” but offer intrinsic satisfaction.

Engineering degrees would probably be in the first category. Creative writing degrees typically fall into the latter.

If I had the good fortune to study at Oxford when C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien taught there, I would have savored the opportunity to sit in their presence and explore the wonders of Medieval Literature or Old English. (In America, at least, both of those degrees would fall into the second category identified above.)

As it was, my initial degree was in journalism. It seemed that every quarter our professors at the University of Washington would remind us that five years after graduation, no more than five percent of us would be working in that particular field. (I referred to those sessions as de-motivational chats.)

Still, learning how to write is a skill that serves one well in nearly any field.

Learning to yodel, on the other hand, probably possesses far fewer applications.

This year the Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts will introduce a course on alpine “singing.” The University has expressed hope they will inspire enough Swiss yodelers to establish a degree program. If their efforts really pay off, they dream of offering a graduate degree in the rarified field.

The BBC reports “Yodelling is enjoying something of a resurgence in Switzerland, even featuring on successful chart albums last year.” I guess that answers the question about what the Swiss do beyond banking and making confectioneries.

If you have led a life so sheltered that you are uncertain exactly what yodeling is, the BBC describes it as “a form of singing which involves wobbling the voice up and down in a rapid change of pitch.”

An online dictionary defines yodel as a verb meaning “to sing with frequent changes from the ordinary voice to falsetto and back again, in the manner of Swiss and Tyrolean mountaineers.”

While most of us prefer our falsetto music in small doses, yodeling capitalizes on the full range of the human larynx, and then some.

The course will be taught by a famous yodeler, Nadja Räss. I’ve linked to one of her performances below.

I was curious as to what Lewis and Tolkien would have thought about this subject’s suitability for academic study. I suspect it would have provided the Inklings a chuckle, but they would affirm the value of studying one’s unique cultural heritage.

I did find one curious encounter Lewis had with a Swiss traveler in 1927. It has nothing to do with yodeling, and only tangentially touches on the university, but it is rather interesting. In a letter to his brother he mentions that Minto (Janie Moore) who lived with him, was being visited by an acquaintance.

You will be surprised to hear that while I write this, Minto is out to dinner. This results from the chief event since you left—the arrival of ‘un ami’ of Florence de Forest—not staying here, thank heavens.

He is a little Swiss commercial traveller, ‘Villie Goût,’ as smart as a bandbox, and very polite. Beyond making horrible noises in clearing his ‘pipes . . .’ and being intensely ugly, he is really quite harmless, tho’ of course very vulgar. He and Florence absolutely insisted on Minto’s dining with them at the Eastgate tonight, and won the day.

They know how to move their monde, as you will see from this fact and also when I tell you that they made me take them up Magdalen Tower this morning—as well as round the College. When I showed them the deer he made one of those extremely simple French jokes with which Maurice and M. Zée have familiarised us.

I had explained that these deer were descendants of a herd wh. had been there before the College was founded (that is quite true by the by, or as true as a College tradition need be), and I added ‘So you may say they are the oldest members of the College’.

‘And ze most intelligent?’ returned M. Goût.

I am confident that Mr. Goût and his companion enjoyed their visit to Oxford. Perhaps he returned home to Switzerland hoping that someday their universities would rival those of Britain.

Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts was not founded until 1997, but their bold academic vision would have made Goût proud.

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You can enjoy a sample of Nadja Räss’ singing here.