Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Why I collect CS Lewis and Tolkien or remembering World War I and choosing to hope

Last week Mr. Husband told me that
I should read the letter that we just got in the mail
from James M. Kushiner for Touchstone Magazine,
one of the magazines that Mr. Husband
has read for some years and that I often read
as well....

Mr. Husband read the letter out loud over lunch last week 
and afterwards I said we need to keep this letter,
and put it in a place of honour in our library.

I then told Mr. Husband that
 I would like to share this letter on my blog,
I felt it to be of such great importance.

Mr. Husband contacted Mr. Kushiner and 
the text and permission to share it with you has been granted.

Here it is: 

August 2014 marks the centennial of the start of the First World War. More than 7 million civilians died as a result of the war. More than 70 million combatants took part; 9 million lost their lives. One of them was James C. Gold, the father of my great-aunt Helen. Gold, a private in the Scottish Royal Fusiliers, was killed on September 29, 1915, during the battle for the coal-mining town of Loos in Belgium.

Four days earlier, another Scottish battalion at Loos, the King’s Own Borderers, retreated from their advance after meeting heavy enemy fire and poison gas. They remained shaken in their trenches until a lone 40-year-old piper, Daniel Logan Laidlaw, got out of the trench and piped, marching back and forth along the parapet, playing the men out of their trenches into the attack, which they won against the enemy. Laidlaw was wounded, but continued to play. For his valor he was awarded the Victoria Cross, the highest award for valor that any British soldier can receive. Laidlaw died in 1950 at age 74.

During the war, over 1,000 pipers were killed. They were often the first up from the trench, leading men into the fray with their stirring music. Many soldiers have said that there is something about the bagpipe that lifts them above themselves during battle and gives them courage. Perhaps it is the example of the piper’s courage itself. Someone has to lead the troops, and in the case of Loos, Laidlaw’s action prevented the formation of a breach in the British line.

The Great War has often been noted for its chilling effect on the moral psyche of Europe’s ruling classes—it certainly ended a time of optimism about the progress of civilization. Historian Joseph Loconte recently wrote in the Times of London that “the European belief in progress, democracy, morality, and religion” was itself a casualty of war.

The watchword of the post-war years was disillusionment. “I think we are in rats’ alley,” wrote T.S. Eliot, “where the dead men lost their bones.” Erich Remarque, in his classic war memoir, All Quiet on the Western Front, predicted a generation “broken, burnt out, rootless, and without hope.”

Europe despaired. Many embraced fascism, others communism. Like the Scots at Loos, shaken and gassed back to their trenches, the religious soul of the Continent was broken. It soon faced even greater trials in the inferno of World War II, in which an estimated 20 million soldiers and 40 million civilians died. Much of Europe—from Russia to Great Britain—was bombed into rubble, while millions were killed in concentration camps.

I have watched many hours of film footage of WWII and its aftermath. I can only imagine the depths of despair of the homeless and the refugees and the skepticism of the intellectual class. Yet, Joseph Loconte points out,

two extraordinary authors and friends—both soldiers in the First World War—rebelled against this prevailing mood. Rejecting the agnosticism and cynicism of their era, J.R.R. Tolkien (a Catholic) and C.S. Lewis (an Anglican) insisted upon a moral universe: evil was a force that threatened every human soul but God and goodness were the ultimate realities. Though often dismissed as escapism, Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings and Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia present a vigorous defense of the heroic tradition: a vision of human life tempered by the experience of war, yet nourished by a Christian sensibility.

While neither Tolkien nor Lewis, “two of the most influential Christian authors of the last century,” risked death by writing their books, each in his own way stepped out of the academic trenches and held up an unpopular banner of traditional religious belief. While the intelligentsia did not care much for their views, Lewis’s and Tolkien’s works have encouraged many Christians over the years to keep their faith and to stand their ground.

In such times as these, when it seems many are in full retreat, we need the vision of men like Lewis and Tolkien. We need the courage of men like the piper Daniel Laidlaw. We need those who will play the anthems of the Faith clearly above the noise of battle, lest we despair of the Lord’s promised victory.

And so is the reason we collect CS Lewis' and JRR Tolkien's books.
My priest in Ottawa many times said to us:
the Church surrounds the world, 
not the world the Church.

A friend, who I asked what to do about the darkness we see
around us (intellectually, culturally and in tragic world events), 
said read the writers who had before
faced that darkness, like Lewis and Tolkien.

I am convinced we need these writers more than ever before.
Mr. Kushiner's letter shows why and so
will stay enveloped by our CS Lewis books to
remind ourselves of a library's grand purpose and to
strengthen us along the way.
It is hoped that others, when visiting us, will also
dip into our books and perhaps read the letter
that so rightly inspired this post. 


Post Script:

The rest of Mr. letter is in support of Touchstone Magazine 
and rightly concludes as follows -- 
given here for those who love to read letters in full as I do -- 

At Touchstone, we understand this. Our senior editors—Robert George, Anthony Esolen, Russell Moore, Fr. Patrick Reardon, Allan Carlson and others—have piped, if you will, the tunes of Christian faith and fidelity regardless of where they find themselves. For my part, I am now writing messages every week to encourage the troops, while our hard-working staff publishes such articles in Touchstone.

We applaud all the brave men and women who stand up for truth in their churches, communities, and schools. We salute the godly pastors, teachers, and leaders who pass on the Tradition. They are the lifeblood of the Church, the salt of the earth, sustained, as we would readily confess, by the grace of Christ, who said, “Apart from me, you can do nothing.”

I thank you for your past support, for helping us in our mission. I write this message to encourage you, but also to ask you to help our mission again with a gift to Touchstone. As you know, we have bills to pay, and Touchstone is made possible only by the regular support of people like you. Every year, more than half of our expenses are covered by donations.

If you are you able to contribute to Touchstone again at this time, your gift will be gratefully received and help Touchstone go from strength to strength. Thank you, and be strong!

Yours in Christ,

James M. Kushiner
Executive Editor, Touchstone

P.S. You can either return the enclosed Friends of Touchstone card with your gift or, if more convenient, donate securely online by going to www.touchstonemag.com/new/support.php


Lisa @ HappyinDoleValley said...

What a wonderful letter and such truths! Your library contains many of our family's favorites -- we, too, are Lewis and Tolkien readers. In fact, just this morning as my husband and I chatted over coffee before he left for work, we discussed the impact Tolkien's writings had on us after 9-11. A dark cloud does seem to be gathering, yet, we are comforted by the truth that Christ's kingdom is eternal. Both Lewis and Tolkien paint vividly of the victory that has already been won despite the trials battles along the way. Faith is a must, isn't it. Many blessings, Lisa :)

elizabeth said...

thank you Lisa! That is so lovely about your husband and your conversation over breakfast! We are so blessed to have such authors to read!!! May God bless you also!!!

Elizabeth @ The Garden Window said...

What a truly remarkable and insightful letter!

GretchenJoanna said...

I often don't read those letters carefully, and I seem to have missed that one altogether. I love your line, "...to remind ourselves of a library's grand purpose."
Hope will not disappoint us.