Lewis 101 / Tolkien 101: I’ve Seen Trees from Both Sides Now …


You look at trees and label them just so …
He sees no stars who does not see them first
of living silver made that sudden burst
to flame like flowers beneath the ancient song,
whose very echo after-music long
has since pursued. There is no firmament,
only a void, unless a jeweled tent
myth-woven and elf-patterned; and no earth,
unless the mother’s womb whence all have birth.

– JRR Tolkien Mythopoeia: To one who said that myths were lies and therefore worthless, even though “breathed through silver” PHILOMYTHUS TO MISOMYTHUS


JRR Tolkien – author and creator of MIddle Earth – The Hobbit, and The Lord of the Rings trilogy

CS Lewis – author and creator of The Chronicles of Narnia series

Both lifelong friends, and fellow professors of Literature at Oxford University through much of the early to mid 1900s.  Their influence on each other is such that Lewis dedicated his Screwtape Letters to Tolkien, while Tolkien played a significant role in Lewis’s conversion to the Christian faith.  It was after a long evening’s conversation along Addison’s Walk, the walking path at Magdalen College, Oxford University, that Lewis finally admitted God is God, and became, at that point, “the most reluctant convert in all of England.” (see Lewis 102: Surprised by Joy post).  With fellow Oxford Literature Professor, friend and Christian Hugo Dyson along, the three talked long into the evening about how the Christian story was in fact “the myth that was also a fact.”

1 oxf

After the walk, Tolkien composed the poem Mythopoeia to Lewis, as himself a “lover of myth / Philomythus” to Lewis, or “Misomythus, one who said that myths were lies and therefore worthless, even though ‘breathed through silver.’ “

While other Christian celebrities and paupers alike have travelled this famous path, I was fortunate to perform my pilgrimage in July of 2016. I have thus included some pictures of my walk there, along with some scenes from Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings film series, where they seem to fit.  Enjoy


C.S. Lewis and JRR Tolkien. They probably think each other’s initialed names are a bit humorous (Clive Staples, or “Jack” after his “beloved dog ‘Jacksie’ from his youth;” John Ronald Reuel. Lewis did adore folks who refer to his fictive septuagint as “The BELOVED Chronicles of Narnia” )

The Eagle and Child tavern in Oxford, UK where Tolkien, Lewis and their literary circle chilled


The “Rabbit Room” where Lewis, Tolkien and friends discussed life and literature;    See, it’s true!  LOTR postcards on display, proof of their sanctification (upper right).

Like the Shire, and quite unlike Mordor, the “Bird and Babe” is a fun place; beware the 4 inch thick, bread ensconced chunk of cheese titled “The Plowman’s Sandwich”

hp fruity

“It is ironic that the English scour the globe for lands with exotic sauces, but when it is time to cook, they leave them all in the cupboard.” – Louis Markos.  Not so with HP Fruity Steak Sauce, Gastronomic Pride and Pleasure of  the British Isles.  Well, “whilst” this is from a “brilliant, lovely <pronunciation: “low-vly”> ” shelf somewhere in Oxford, not sure it made it into the culinarily elite cupboard of this tavern.

Below is a picture of Lewis’ Planetary scheme relating to Space Trilogy now called Cosmic Trilogy as well as originally developed as a theme throughout his Chronicles of Narnia, revealed 10 years ago by Prof. Michael Ward in his dissertation for Cambridge University, as  discussed at his site.


To one who said that myths were lies and therefore worthless, even though “breathed through silver.” PHILOMYTHUS TO MISOMYTHUS

I. You look at trees and label them just so,  

 (for trees are `trees’, and growing is `to grow’);

you walk the earth and tread with solemn pace

one of the many minor globes of Space:

A star’s a star, some matter in a ball

Compelled to courses mathematical

Amid the regimented, cold, Inane,

Where destined atoms are each moment slain


4a elves 4b oxf

II. At the bidding of a Will, to which we bend

(and must), but only dimly apprehend,

Great processes march on, as Time unrolls

From dark beginnings to uncertain goals;

5a flowers

And as on page o’erwritten without clue,

With script and limning packed of various hue,

And endless multitude of forms appear,

Some grim, some frail, some beautiful, some queer

5b fellowship

Each alien, except as kin from one

Remote Origo*, gnat, man, stone, and sun

(Origo: source, origin)

6a autumn rivendell

God made the petreous rocks, the arboreal trees,

tellurian earth, and stellar stars, and these

homuncular men, who walk upon the ground

with nerves that tingle touched by light and sound.

6c 2half men

The movements of the sea, the wind in boughs,

green grass, the large slow oddity of cows,

thunder and lightning, birds that wheel and cry,

31e bird2

slime crawling up from mud to live and die,

these each are duly registered and print

the brain’s contortions with a separate dint.

 6b gates

7a tree


III. Yet trees and not `trees’, until so named

and seen and never were so named,

till those had been who speech’s involuted breath unfurled,

faint echo and dim picture of the world,

but neither record nor a photograph,

being divination, judgement, and a laugh,

7b aslan

response of those that felt astir within

by deep monition* movements that were kin

to life and death of trees, of beasts, of stars:

free captives undermining shadowy bars,

(Monition: warning of impending danger, a forbidding)

8a king arag

digging the foreknown from experience

and panning the vein of spirit out of sense

Great powers they slowly brought out of themselves,

and looking backward they beheld the Elves

that wrought on cunning forges in the mind,

and light and dark on secret looms entwined

8b folk


IV. He sees no stars who does not see them first

of living silver made that sudden burst.

to flame like flowers beneath the ancient song,

whose very echo after-music long

9a stars    9b aslan again

has since pursued. There is no firmament,

only a void, unless a jeweled tent

myth-woven and elf-patterned; and no earth,

unless the mother’s womb whence all have birth.

 9c trees

   11a path

V. The heart of man is not compound of lies,

but draws some wisdom from the only Wise,

and still recalls him. Though now long estranged,

man is not wholly lost nor wholly changed.

Disgraced he may be, yet is not dethroned,

and keeps the rags of lordship one he owned,

10b theoden

his world-dominion by creative act: 

not his to worship the great Artefact,

man, sub-creator, the refracted light

through whom is splintered from a single White

11b gandarag  11d lego

to many hues, and endlessly combined

in living shapes that move from mind to mind

11c poster     11a path

Though all the crannies of the world we filled

with elves and goblins, though we dared to build

gods and their houses out of dark and light,

12b white city   12c hobbit hole

and sow the seed of dragons, ’twas our right

(used or misused). The right has not decayed

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

12a river.png    12d old coots


VI. Yes! `wish-fulfilment dreams’ we spin to cheat

our timid hearts and ugly Fact defeat!

Whence came the wish, and whence the power to dream,

or some things fair and others ugly deem ?

13a freud dude  13b boat

14a path

All wishes are not idle, not in vain

fulfilment we devise – for pain is pain,

not for itself to be desired, but ill;

or else to strive or to subdue the will

alike were graceless; and of Evil this

alone is dreadly certain: Evil is

14b two eyes

VII. Blessed are the timid hearts that evil hate,

that quail in its shadow, and yet shut the gate;

that seek no parley, and in guarded room,

16b dudes

through small and bare, upon a clumsy loom

weave rissues gilded by the far-off day

hoped and believed in under Shadow’s sway.

16a river


VIII. Blessed are the men of Noah’s race that build

their little arks, though frail and poorly filled,

and steer through winds contrary towards a wraith,

a rumour of a harbour guessed by faith

17b boat    17a path

IX. Blessed are the legend-makers with their rhyme

of things nor found within record time


It is not they that have forgot the Night,

or bid us flee to organised delight,

in lotus-isles of economic bliss

18b river  18a field

forswearing souls to gain a Circe-kiss

(and counterfeit at that, machine-produced,

bogus seduction of the twice-seduced)

19c elves

X. Such isles they saw afar, and ones more fair,

and those that hear them yet may yet beware

They have seen Death and ultimate defeat,

and yet they would not in despair retreat,

19b aragdude

but oft to victory have turned the lyre

and kindled hearts with legendary fire,

illuminating Now and dark Hath-been

with light of suns as yet by no man seen

19a path


20d minstrel

XI. I would that I might with the minstrels sing

and stir the unseen with a throbbing string

20c watery

I would be with the mariners of the deep

that cut their slender planks on mountains steep

and voyage upon a vague and wandering quest,

for some have passed beyond the fabled West

20a path     20b flowers

21c bench   21b glossy bush

I would with the beleaguered fools be told,

that keep an inner fastness where their gold,

impure and scanty, yet they loyally bring

to mint in image blurred of distant king,

or in fantastic banners weave

the sheen heraldic emblems of a lord unseen

21a wedding

XII. I will not walk with your progressive apes,

erect and sapient. Before them gapes

the dark abyss to which their progress tends

22c apes

if by God’s mercy progress ever ends,

and does not ceaselessly revolve the same

unfruitful course with changing of a name

22a park  22b path

I will not treat your dusty path and flat,

denoting this and that by this and that,

23a path.png

your world immutable wherein no part

the little maker has with maker’s art

I bow not yet before the Iron Crown,

nor cast my own small golden sceptre down

23b mordor


XII. In Paradise perchance the eye may stray

from gazing upon everlasting Day

24a paradise

to see the day-illumined, and renew

from mirrored truth the likeness of the True

24b bridge  24c swamp.png

Then looking on the Blessed Land ’twill see

that all is as it is, and yet may free:

25c pairdice

Salvation changes not, nor yet destroys,

garden not gardener, children not their toys

25a path  25b path

Evil it will not see, for evil lies

not in God’s picture but in crooked eyes,

26c evil     26b eye

not in the source but in the tuneless voice

In Paradise they look no more awry;

and though they make anew, they make no lie

26a field.png

Be sure they still will make, not been dead,

and poets shall have flames upon their head,

and harps whereon their faultless fingers fall:

there each shall choose for ever from the All

27c harp  27b wh boat

27a deer.png

There is a Deer Park on the grounds of Magdalen College, reportedly with one deer per each Magdalen College Faculty. Magdalen College  is just one of several separate colleges that make up Oxford University, spread throughout the city of Ox-ford (yes, in the 12th century, Oxen crossed some Ford where the city was ultimately founded)

Mythopoeia poem found at http://home.agh.edu.pl/~evermind/jrrtolkien/mythopoeia.htm

28a    28b.png

28c  28d

The final leg of the path empties back out into Magdalen College, founded in 1458, named after the St. Mary Magdalen Hospital for lepers, itself on the grounds of the Hospital of St. John the Baptist, dating from 1180.

DSC01055   DSC00959.JPG

29d.png   29c


Addison’s Walk where Tolkien, Hugo Dyson, CS Lewis – all friends and Literature Professors at Oxford – discussed with Lewis how “the heart of Christianity is a myth which is also a fact”

“Dyson and Tolkien were the immediate human causes of my own conversion,” Lewis would later write.

Near the end of the walk, a poem by Lewis is inscribed

30a poem  30b poem2  DSC00835

What the Bird Said Early in the Year

I heard in Addison’s Walk a bird sing clear:                                                                                This year the summer will come true  This year This year

Winds will not strip the blossom from the apple trees                                                              This year nor want of rain destroy the peas

32c  DSC01033

This year time’s nature will no more defeat you                                                                          Nor all the promised moments in their passing cheat you

This time they will not lead you round and back                                                                           To Autumn, one year older, by the well-worn track.

31c squirrel  31b 2deer

This year, this year, as all these flowers foretell,
 We shall escape the circle and undo the spell

Often deceived, yet open once again your heart                                                                       Quick, quick, quick, quick! – the gates are drawn apart

6b gates

32b    32d





Continue on to Lewis 102: Surprised by Joy / The Heart of Lewis

or dare to tread where only the hardiest of The Race of Men has gone before, our 3 part discussion of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings beginning at Tolkien 102: Faith and Fellowship

One thought on “Lewis 101 / Tolkien 101: I’ve Seen Trees from Both Sides Now …

  1. Pingback: Tolkien 102 : Fantasy and Fellowship | Welcome to Narnian Frodo

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