Tag Archives: Oxford University

Why we need scholarship and intellectual integrity–Dorothy L. Sayers


While snooping around in the Marion Wade Center‘s archives last year, I discovered a gem of an article by Dorothy L. Sayers in the little magazine Oxford. In it, she explained with her characteristic verve and insight why academic scholarship, while it may seem otiose and impractical to the outsider, is in fact a very great boon to the world. And I noted the resonances between this article and her now world-famous essay (which has become the founding document of countless Christian private schools–especially in the classical model) “The Lost Tools of Learning.”

At that point, I skimmed the article, noting that this was the same theme that animated her wonderful novel Gaudy Night. Then I put it away and went on to other things. This summer, back at the Wade, I dug out the article again and made some notes on it, then had it photocopied. Here is a sample: Continue reading

The Inklings: The Oxford literary circle of C S Lewis and J R R Tolkien


What was C S Lewis’s and J R R Tolkien’s Oxford circle, The “Inklings,” really like? In the Tolkien issue of Christian History & Biography, my friends Jennifer Woodruff (now Jennifer Woodruff Tait) and Edwin Tait (now Edwin Woodruff Tait) contributed to a “group portrait” of the Inklings. Here, after a brief introduction from me, Jenn gives the texture of Oxford and the Inklings group, and Edwin highlights an oft-forgotten Inkling, Owen Barfield:

J.R.R. Tolkien: The Gallery – The Inklings
Tolkien relished his weekly meetings with this club of remarkable friends.

Thursday evenings in Lewis’s Magdalen College rooms and Tuesdays for lunch at the Eagle and Child public house, Tolkien joined C. S. Lewis and a revolving cast of others in a beloved ritual.

Over tea—or ale—and pipes, these Oxford thinkers and writers read aloud from their works, traded anecdotes and jibes, and engaged in what Lewis called “the cut and parry of prolonged, fierce, masculine argument.” Many passages of The Lord of the Rings found in the Inklings their first—and unfailingly appreciative—audience, much to the delight of their author. Continue reading

J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis: A legendary friendship


Though my friend Colin Duriez’s book Tolkien and C. S. Lewis: The Gift of Friendship is no longer new, the interview I did with him when the book came out in 2003 is still fun to read. Whether you are a casual reader of these authors or an aficionado, Duriez’s books about them are packed with revelations. See especially his various Handbooks on Lewis, Tolkien, and the Inklings authors who met for conversation in Lewis’s Oxford rooms. They are filled with non-trivial details–“meaty,” I’d say–and interpretive insights that help to contextualize and explain the works of these beloved authors.

J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis: A Legendary Friendship
A new book reveals how these two famous friends conspired to bring myth and legend—and Truth—to modern readers.
Chris Armstrong

Our world would be poorer without two other worlds: Narnia and Middle-earth. Yet if two young professors had not met at an otherwise ordinary Oxford faculty meeting in 1926, those wondrous lands would still be unknown to us.

British author Colin Duriez, who wrote the article “Tollers and Jack in issue #78 of Christian History, explains why this is so in his forthcoming book Tolkien and C. S. Lewis: The Gift of Friendship (Hidden Spring). Duriez tells the story of how these two brilliant authors met, discovered their common love for mythical tales, and pledged to bring such stories into the mainstream of public reading taste. Continue reading

Norman Cantor on C S Lewis on the Middle Ages


In my forthcoming book Medieval Wisdom for Modern Protestants, a number of British writers will serve as guides into the period: C S Lewis, J R R Tolkien, G K Chesterton, Dorothy L Sayers and others. The medievalist Norman Cantor, in his 1991 book Inventing the Middle Ages, spends a chapter talking about how Lewis, Tolkien, and their Oxford colleague Frederick Maurice Powicke shaped modern views of the Middle Ages. Together he labels these men “The Oxford Fantasists.”

There is good stuff in this chapter of Cantor’s on the sort of medievalism (that is, “modern uses or construals of the Middle Ages”) that Lewis and friends (including Barfield and Williams) fashioned.

Tolkien, as medievalist, though he didn’t do much in his field apart from the fantasy writing that absorbed so much of his time, was for example “the leading scholar on the subjects of two precious fourteenth-century poems written anonymously in the Midlands, about seventy miles from Oxford, in the dialect of that region. These poems, Sir [206] Gawain and the Green Knight and Pearl, are now regarded, along with Beowulf (c. 800) and the works of Chaucer (late fourteenth century), as the greatest medieval poetry in the English language. There is no more beautiful poem in any medieval language than Pearl, an allegorical elegy for a dead child. Tolkien was responsible for the definitive text of Sir Gawain, published in 1925. . . .” (205-6)

“Lewis in the war years was by far the best known of the Inklings group, both within the academic world and even more among the general public. He had established his reputation as a leading medieval literary historian with The Allegory of Love (1936), a pioneering and influential study of medieval romantic literature. . . .” (206)

“Of all the medievalists of the twentieth century, Lewis and Tolkien have gained incomparably the greatest audience, although 99.9 percent of their readers have never looked at their scholarly work. They are among the best-selling authors of modern times for their works of fantasy, adult and children’s. . . . In 1949 Jack Lewis’s smiling face graced the cover of Time magazine, and he gained a huge audience in the United States.” (207) Continue reading

Summary of chapter 6: The mission of the monks


The contemplative life in some way resembles the life of quasi-monastic scholarship lived by the dons of Oxford University. Lewis, Tolkien, and Williams taught there, and Sayers attended there and returned there repeatedly in her imagination. There is a culture there of, if not strict asceticism, then at least a communal life focused on the contemplation of the Good, the True, and the Beautiful, through the study of texts and the mutual admonition and edification of minds and spirits brought together in a sort of quasi-Benedictine life of stability. Continue reading