The Lighthouse

the lighthouse

19 August 2012

Promptly Tolkien

A while a go I read The Fiction Class by Susan Breen. Sprinkled throughout the story are writing prompts the main character gives her class of writing students. I've tackled one of two since then, and here is another:

Think of a person from history who intrigues you. Napoleon? Cleopatra? Martin Luther King?
Write a two- to three-page description of that person eating a meal. What would s/he eat? How would s/he eat? What would s/he be thinking about as s/he ate? Would someone be sharing the meal with him or her? What would they talk about?
Remember: bring your character to life!

Tolkien and Lewis. It is mid to late autumn. The men are walking among Tolkien’s beloved trees nearby, their differences evident in how they walk: Lewis, taller and vital, walks quickly.  Tolkien likes to stroll, stops occasionally to look at the trees, drive home a point, or light a pipe. They debate whether the purpose of a walk is the walk itself, or getting back home again. The evening is crisp, with an edge of oncoming winter chill.  The sun is nearing the horizon, soon to leave their little bit of England in darkness.

Feet crunching through fallen leaves on their approach to a cosy house set well back from the quiet country lane, two men anticipate a good meal to fill their bellies. They stop for final pulls on well-used pipes, looking forward to the warm fire promised by the drifting curls of smoke from the chimney pots on the roof.  Knocking pipe bowls against the sturdy soles of walking shoes, the two friends enter the house, stepping into the hallway where they hang their coats, and exchange shoes for slippers. (Lewis is so frequent a visitor in his friend’s house he has a pair of slippers for his own use kept in the same basket as Tolkien’s own.)

Minutes later, we see them in front of the fireplace in deep armchairs; the fire and evening sun coming through the windows is the only source of light in the room.  There is a warm pocket of intimacy around the two friends as they sit talking in the comfortable room with a drink to fend off the chill of their walk.  It’s a cozy room: deep leather chairs; fire burning in the grate for warmth and light; books neat on shelves, piled on tables, forming towers on the floor.  It’s about 6pm, and falling dark outside.  Tolkien (Ronald) and Lewis (Jack) are sitting with amber-coloured drink in stout glasses, pipes lit, legs stretched out to the fire. A meat pie warms in the oven, left by Edith for their supper.  There is also a basket of hearty bread, and a plate of cheese on the table behind them.

The sound of the fire is soothing, familiar, homey background noise. The men talk about their students, and their writing; about Hugo Dyson who had been invited but was unable to join them. They critique and tease each other about current projects, argue the use of allegory in fiction, and debate liturgical norms - Roman verses Anglican. Their conversation has the rhythm of long familiarity, as if these topics have been gone over often and often between them. With perfect good will, they accept the shortcomings in the other’s arguments, each knowing their own to be the right.

The two men move to the table, and eat leisurely, talking all the while. The room is now lit by the fire and a lamp on the sideboard – Tolkien’s home has electricity, but he prefers leaving most of the room veiled in darkness. Between them is a lot of laughter, many drinks – true, deep friendship.

The meal draws to an end, evidenced by crumbs on the table, a decimated pie, one heel of bread. Tolkien goes to the kitchen to brew a pot of tea, returning with a tray set with sturdy mugs and the brown betty teapot. They remain at the table smoking a pipe and continue talking until Edith comes home, entering with a bluster of wind blowing open the door. At some point in the evening it has begun to rain. She has spent the evening at cards with friends, as glad for the feminine companionship as the men are to be able to smoke at the table, tongues running free without thought for feminine sensitivities.  Her arrival calls a close to the evening, but slowly, none of the three eager to have it end.


  1. I absolutely loved this. Hated to see it end. I wanted it to be a book!

  2. Thank you! Wouldn't you love to have dinner with Tolkien and Lewis? Or at least be a fly on the wall when they were having dinner?

  3. Trisha, that was beautiful and interesting. I could picture the whole thing quite easily in my mind. You are right about wanting to be a fly on the wall.

    Great writing my dear!

  4. Thank you, Stampingfool.

    If I could go back in time, I'd love to visit Oxford at the time of the Inklings.