Guest Post: A Sequel to E.M.W. Tillyard’s ‘World Picture’ Classic and a List of Holiday Gift Suggestions — Yes, More Books!

From Chris Calderon, friend of this blog and creative connector of disparate ideas, here are some notes and holiday gift ideas!

It all started about five or so years ago with this girl.  We’ve never met, I just ordered a copy of Diana Glyer’s The Company They Keep.  Which is about, as it’s subtitle says, C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien as Writers in Community.

During the course of her book Glyer makes several references (pgs. 29, 217) to a book called The Precincts of Felicity by Charles Moorman.  According to Glyer, Moorman’s book was reviewed (and perhaps damned with maybe too much faint praise) by Warren Lewis.

Centering on The Inklings (with special emphasis on Charles Williams, along with Dorothy Sayers and T.S. Eliot), Moorman’s central thesis is that (following Williams) the central theme running through the entire oeuvre of the Big Three Mythopoeicists (and also in the work of Eliot and Sayers) is summed up by the image of “The City”, or De Citivis  Dei (New Jerusalem).

What does all this have to do with E.M. W. Tillyard, and why should I care about him?

Tillyard once engaged Lewis in public debate about literature, and also wrote

The Elizabethan World Picture, a book that details the religious-philosophical outlook of the Renaissance and the Middle Ages, and which has been a subject of discussion on this blog before.

In his Precincts,  Moorman mentions, in a footnote, a seemingly unrelated critic named Carl L. Becker, and his book The Heavenly City of the Eighteenth-Century Philosophers.  Curious, I went online and looked it up.  I found it.

What put me in mind of Tillyard’s World Picture was the official publisher’s description:

“Here a distinguished American historian challenges the belief that the eighteenth century was essentially modern in its temper. In crystalline prose Carl Becker demonstrates that the period commonly described as the Age of Reason was, in fact, very far from that; that Voltaire, Hume, Diderot, and Locke were living in a medieval world, and that these philosophers “demolished the Heavenly City of St. Augustine only to rebuild it with more up-to-date materials.”

In other words, what Tillyard and Lewis have done for the Middle Ages and Renaissance,  Becker seems to be performing a similar “rehabilitation” for a time popularly thought to be “Anti-Theistic” in any sense of the term.  It also chronicles how some of the most cherished concepts in Christendom, such as Natural Law, Dignity of the Human Soul, and what might be termed the economics of the “Divine Commonwealth” based on the biblical view of equality before God, were all secularized by the big philosophic names of that era (one of whom more or less wrote the book on which our Constitution is based on).

It may be that Becker’s book, like Lewis’s or Tolkien’s was his own attempt to “turn back the clock”, or preserve the original meanings or idea people take too much for granted now, and along with their original meanings, the ways of thinking  or “seeing” that naturally lead to them.

The best thing about Becker’s book is that it’s still in print.  It’s Amazon link is here.

The major strike this recommendation might have against it is how “specialist” it is.  In other words it’s not the kind of book most people are likely to pick up on arriving home from work in order to unwind with a cool brewski in hand.

Still, for what it’s worth, I hope it’s considered time well redeemed.

Hogwarts Christmas Gift Recommendations

With the holidays just around the corner, what better time to get the jump on all things Inkling and Mythopoeic related with a few recommendations of potential stocking stuffers?  Starting with a book I owe to J.K. Rowling herself for helping me discover:

The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle.

The title is awkward and a brief synopsis (A lone Unicorn goes in search of the rest of her kind, who have gone missing) doesn’t do the story justice.  The story the book has to tell, however, is timeless and grand.  It is truly one of those books were words can’t convey the power and majesty of Beagle’s prose, character, or genuine artistry (perhaps of an Alchemical kind?).  Find a copy, read it, and learn a little about life, love, and the real meaning of a happy ending.

Farmer Giles of Ham by J.R.R. Tolkien.

There are a great many parallels between this book, and Tolkien’s better known “The Hobbit”.  Both center around a simple, rustic, down to earth hero, and the little community in which he lives.  Both feature a conversation with a dragon, and both are very clever satires on the nature of heroism, and just what really makes someone “the good guy”.  A fun treat for those who want more from their favorite “Author of the Century” in a lighter vein.

A Pleasure to Burn: Fahrenheit 451 stories by Ray Bradbury.

Fans of Allegiant and The Hunger Games may find this collection of stories intriguing.  Penned by one of the writers who helped start the dystopian genre, what each story really offers is a kind of pre-history of Fahrenheit 451.  Each tale builds upon the one that came before it as Bradbury slowly constructs his bookless future, leading ultimately to the first ever mass market printing of “The Fireman”, the novella precursor that turned into the later novel (also try and spot certain alchemic images Bradbury peppers throughout his story).

For those of a more scholarly (Hermione Granger-ish) bent, I’d recommend the following:

Story Craft: Reflections on Faith, Culture & Writing From the Author of Hank the Cowdog by John R. Erikson

John Erikson is a Good Ol’ Boy from the Lone Star state, and author of the very funny series detailing a farm dog named Hank, who fancies himself “Head of Ranch Security”, which are also worth a look.  Story Craft is part how-to manual on fiction, part cultural critique, part devotional.  Something anyone with an interest in writing and where authors sometimes get their ideas are sure to treasure (features cameo appearances by C.S. Lewis and Francis Schaeffer).

And finally, an advanced list for those who like a challenge:

Eliot and His Age by Russell Kirk, and T.S. Eliot: The Philosopher Poet by Alzina Stone Dale

Believe it or not, I actually found it easier to grasp Tolkien as an author and a thinker through reading Kirk’s intellectual biography of Eliot (the best I know of) and “seeing” how alike the two writers were.  Both were avid readers in The Western Canon, with a special enthusiasm for the Middle Ages, both kept copies of books by the statesman Edmund Burke on their shelves, and both tried to awaken the imaginations of their readers through the use of myth in their works.  I owe my current thinking on Tolkien to Kirk and his biography.  For Lewis fans, Dale’s book records the poet’s interactions with the Narnian Don without resorting to modern slander, and is a good place to start a better understanding of the man who shined a light in the Wasteland.

Chesterton and Tolkien as Theologians by Allison Milbank.

Another good source to deepen an understanding of Middle Earth, Milbank makes a convincing case that Tolkien (inspired partly by Chesterton (and Coleridge and Aquinas) utilized the same modernist technique as Eliot for Christian ends in his work.  For advanced readers, but well worth the effort.

The Other Bishop Berkeley by Costica Bradantan

Perhaps the greatest service Michael Ward has performed for fans of Narnia is not only revealing the hidden code embedded in the works, but also the thinking behind the code in his ousting of Lewis as a hidden Berkeleyian.  For those curious enough to look into more of the history behind “Literary Alchemy”, Bradantan makes a convincing demonstration of how George Berkeley utilized Sacred Iconography in his own apologetics, in particular his final work Siris, which Bradantan describes as “in close comparison to the alchemists treatment of the lapis philosophorum…As a result, Berkeley’s philosophy is being projected into, and mirrored by, the sophisticated universe of the alchemical operations and proceedings…(pg. 5, intro)”.  Note: this book is available on Amazon, yet a much cheaper edition for $36.95 can be had on Google Ebooks which can be found here:

And last but not least, the original hand bound and illuminated Book of Kells

…Nah, just kidding.  In all seriousness, this list is offered in the same spirit that Lewis writes of when one comes into contact with others who share similar interests, and with a holiday best wishes.  What other recommendations do you think can be made?


  1. Just one thing to add to your list, John–if you like, that is!

    Seeing as we’re coming up on 50 years since the death of these three greats, I recommend Peter Kreeft’s bizarre but brilliant book, “Between Heaven and Hell: A Dialog Somewhere Beyond Death with John F. Kennedy, C. S. Lewis & Aldous Huxley”. It takes place in Purgatory, as Lewis, Kennedy, and Huxley discuss the “true Christianity” and its implications in their lives and the lives of the people they have influenced.

    It’s still in print and can be bought on Amazon:

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