Merry Christmas from the World of Literature

King Arthur lay, at Camelot upon a Christmas-tide, with many a gallant lord and lovely lady, and all the noble brotherhood of the Round Table. There they held rich revels with gay talk and jest; one while they would ride forth to joust and tourney, and again back to the court to make carols; for there was the feast holden fifteen days with all the mirth that men could devise, song and glee, glorious to hear, in the daytime, and dancing at night. Halls and chambers were crowded with noble guests, the bravest of knights and the loveliest of ladies, and Arthur himself was the comeliest king that ever held a court. For all this fair folk were in their youth, the fairest and most fortunate under heaven, and the king himself of such fame that it were hard now to name so valiant a hero.

~Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (14th century), translated by Jessie L. Weston in 1898

THEN stood the realm in great jeopardy long while, for every lord that was mighty of men made him strong, and many weened to have been king. Then Merlin went to the Archbishop of Canterbury, and counselled him for to send for all the lords of the realm, and all the gentlemen of arms, that they should to London come by Christmas, upon pain of cursing; and for this cause, that Jesus, that was born on that night, that he would of his great mercy show some miracle, as he was come to be king of mankind, for to show some miracle who should be rightwise king of this realm. So the Archbishop, by the advice of Merlin, sent for all the lords and gentlemen of arms that they should come by Christmas even unto London. And many of them made them clean of their life, that their prayer might be the more acceptable unto God. So in the greatest church of London, whether it were Paul’s or not the French book maketh no mention, all the estates were long or day in the church for to pray. And when matins and the first mass was done, there was seen in the churchyard, against the high altar, a great stone four square, like unto a marble stone; and in midst thereof was like an anvil of steel a foot on high, and therein stuck a fair sword naked by the point, and letters there were written in gold about the sword that said thus: — Whoso pulleth out this sword of this stone and anvil, is rightwise king born of all England. Then the people marvelled, and told it to the Archbishop. “I command,” said the Archbishop, “that ye keep you within your church and pray unto God still, that no man touch the sword till the high mass be all done.” So when all masses were done all the lords went to behold the stone and the sword.

~ Sir Thomas Malory, Le Morte Darthur, Chapter V

It was Christmas night and the proper things had been done. The whole village had come to dinner in hall. There had been boar’s head and venison and pork and beef and mutton and capons—but no turkey, because this bird had not yet been invented. There had  been plum pudding and snap-dragon, with blue fire on the tips of one’s fingers, and as much mead as anybody could drink. Sir Ector’s health had been drunk with “Best respects, Measter,” or “Best compliments of the Season, my lords and ladies, and many of them.” There had been mummers to play an exciting dramatic presentation of a story in which St. George and a Saracen and a funny Doctor did surprising things,[1] also carol-singers who rendered “Adeste Fideles” and “I Sing of a Maiden,” in high, clear tenor voices. After that, those children who had not been sick from their dinner played Hoodman Blind and other appropriate games, while the young men and maidens danced morris dances in the middle, the tables having been cleared away. The old folks sat round the walls holding glasses of mead in their hands and feeling thankful that they were past such capers, hoppings and skippings, while those children who had not been sick sat with them, and soon went to sleep, the small heads leaning against their shoulders. At the high table Sir Ector sat with his knightly guests, who had come for the morrow’s hunting, smiling and nodding and drinking burgundy or sherries sack or malmsey wine.

~ T.H. White, The Once and Future King, Chapter XV, 129.

“Come on!” cried Mr. Beaver, who was almost dancing with delight. “Come and see! This is a nasty knock for the Witch! It looks as if her power is already crumbling.”

“What do you mean, Mr. Beaver?” panted Peter as they all scrambled up the steep bank of the valley together.

“Didn’t I tell you,” answered Mr.  Beaver, “that she’d made it always winter and never Christmas? Didn’t I tell you? Well, just come and see!”

And then they were all at the top and did see.

It was a sledge, and it was a reindeer with bells on their harness. But they were far bigger than the Witch’s reindeer, and they were not white but brown. And on the sledge sat a person whom everyone knew the moment they set eyes on him. He was a huge man in a bright red robe (bright as hollyberries) with a hood that had fur inside it and a great white beard that fell like a foamy waterfall over his chest. Everyone knew him because, though you se people of his sort only in Narnia, you see pictures of them and hear them talked about even in our world—the world on this side of the wardrobe door. But when you really see them in Narnia it is rather different. Some of the pictures of Father Christmas in our world make him look only funny and jolly. But now that the children actually stood looking at him they didn’t find it quite like that. He was so big, and so glad, and so real, that they all became quite still. They felt very glad, but also solemn.

“I’ve come at last,” said he. “She has kept me out for a long time, but I have got in at last. Aslan is on the move. The Witch’s magic is weakening.”

And Lucy felt running through her that deep shiver of gladness which you only get if you are being solemn and still.

~ C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, 106-107.

And of course, the original:

Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth. This was the first census taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. And everyone was on his way to register for the census, each to his own city. Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, in order to register along with Mary, who was engaged to him, and was with child. While they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.”

When the angels had gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds began saying to one another, “Let us go straight to Bethlehem then, and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us.” So they came in a hurry and found their way to Mary and Joseph, and the baby as He lay in the manger. When they had seen this, they made known the statement which had been told them about this Child. And all who heard it wondered at the things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart. The shepherds went back, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, just as had been told them.

~ Luke 2: 1-20, NASB.
A most glorious and Merry Christmas to you all!

[1] What a fantastic episode of Doctor Who this would make!

Book Meme Day 23: A book you wanted to read for a long time but still haven’t

Oh boy, where do I begin? There are more than I can list, and one is not more prominent than all others, so what follows will only be a selection, in no particular order.

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

This little-known children’s story is much shorter and more whimsical than The Hobbit, and not tied into the mythology of Middle-Earth. In it, Tolkien tells of the brave Farmer Giles who must confront the dragon Chrysophylax to protect his little town in the Thames valley. I have a very nice hardback copy, with the original illustrations by Pauline Baynes that Tolkien loved, and it has been waiting for me to read it for years. Somehow I haven’t got around to it yet, but at least I have it.

The Once and Future King by T.H. White

A reputed classic of modern Arthurian literature, and, I’m told, just a really fun set of stories. I started reading it a long time ago, probably when I was in junior high school, but stopped very shortly, put off by the anachronistic and whimsical side of Merlin, which I thought very disrespectful to so august a legend. Now, though, I am eager to revisit it, but I can’t say when.

The Magic Bicycle by John Bibee

A strange, mysterious book about which I know little. You know how, when you were a child, there were always these intriguing books at the bottom of your parents’ bookshelves, or lying in some dusty pile in a corner, which you never read or knew much about and which usually had become such a part of the background of your house that you hardly ever noticed them? This is one of those books, for me. I think it technically belonged to my older sister, but she never read it much and left it behind when she married and moved out. My dad commented once or twice that he remembered it being very good, but a little scary for children. Of course, these were magic words to me, but it’s always remained on a dusty bottom shelf, patiently waiting until I find time to open its secrets.

The War With Hannibal by Livy

Selections of this famous Roman historian were required reading for some of my classics courses at university, but Livy was so dense that I never got past perhaps a chapter or two in my freshman year. Still, I have always intended to go back and read most, if not all, of it. Ancient history is always fascinating, doubly so when told by the ancient historians themselves, who were as much storytellers as academics (some might say moreso).

The Faerie Queene by Edmund Spenser

A classic of English Renaissance literature, and a chivalric epic with deeply Christian themes. Or so is its reputation. I haven’t read it beyond a few small selections in high school, which hardly count. My only real familiarity comes from the children’s adaptation in Saint George and the Dragon, my pick for Day 21. Don’t think I even own a complete copy! But someday, someday I will read it in its entirety.

All these, plus many works by and about C.S. Lewis, George MacDonald, G.K. Chesterton, Lord Dunsany, and others with whom they all associated and wrote about. And there are the other ancient and medieval works, the philosophical treatises, and the allegedly wonderful novels that I am told I must read. The world is too large and my life too short for all the reading and the living I desire!