24 January 2009

Apropos of Dragons

For the Feast of the Holy Theophany, I wrote a post concentrating on the references to ‘crushing the heads of dragons’, and the connection between such language and Beowulf. Well, I was unable to post anything else that day, due to non-blogging-oriented obligations, and the next day I was simply forced to post in Dr Johnson. Anyway, I’ve finally gotten around to a post I’ve been planning for some time: ‘Apropos of Dragons’.

It’s simple, really. I mean to relate one of my favourite anecdotes of all time. The speaker is J.R.R. Tolkien, telling a story he heard from C.S. Lewis. The source I first read it in was Humphrey Carpenter's wonderful The Inklings: C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Charles Williams, and their friends (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1979), p. 58, although it can also be found in J.R.R. Tolkien, The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, ed. Humphrey Carpenter (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1981), p. 389.

I remember him [Lewis] telling me a story of Brightman, the distinguished ecclesiastical scholar, who used to sit quietly in Common Room (in Magdalen) saying nothing except on rare occasions. Jack [i.e., Lewis] said that there was a discussion on dragons one night and at the end Brightman's voice was heard to say, ‘I have seen a dragon.’ Silence. ‘Where was that?’ he was asked. ‘On the Mount of Olives,’ he said. He relapsed into silence and never before his death explained what he meant.
I for one can picture the entire scene in my mind—thanks in large part to the painting reproduced on p. 36 of C.S. Lewis: Images of His World, by Douglas Gilbert and Clyde S. Kilby (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1977)—, and I'll never stop wishing I had been born 60 or 70 years earlier than I was just so I could have been there. The ‘Brightman’ mentioned was Frank Edward Brightman (1856-1932), a C of E liturgist who had gotten a First in Mathematical Moderations, Literae Humaniores, and Theology. He was an ordained Anglican cleric and librarian of Pusey House prior to his Magdalen fellowship. I found all of this here. Here’s one of Brightman’s books.

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