The Ideal of Kingship in the Writings of Charles Williams, C.S. Lewis, and J.R.R. Tolkien: Divine Kingship Is Reflected in Middle-Earth

By Green, Melody | Mythlore, Spring-Summer 2014 | Go to article overview

The Ideal of Kingship in the Writings of Charles Williams, C.S. Lewis, and J.R.R. Tolkien: Divine Kingship Is Reflected in Middle-Earth


Green, Melody, Mythlore


THE IDEAL OF KINGSHIP IN THE WRITINGS OF CHARLES WILLIAMS, C.S. LEWIS, AND J.R.R. TOLKIEN: DIVINE KINGSHIP IS REFLECTED IN MIDDLE-EARTH. Christopher Scarf. Cambridge: James Clark & Co., 2013. 200 p. 9780227174012. $50.00.

PUBLISHED BY A BRITISH COMPANY WITH A LONG HISTORY of specialization in academic theological works, this book provides a thought-provoking study of a narrow but well-developed concept. Scarf focuses not simply on kingship, but the exact ways in which many presentations of or allusions to kingship as it appears in the fiction, nonfiction, and poetry of the three best-known Inklings is a reflection of a very specific concept about God.

The book is structured in a rather simple manner, focusing first on Williams, then Lewis, then Tolkien, before pulling it all together in a conclusion that points out the main similarities in their ideas. While this makes the book highly accessible for the reader or researcher who is interested in only one of the three, it is not a convenient structure for the reader who is primarily interested in the ways that their ideas about kingship as a reflection of the divine reflect or interact with each other. That sort of reader would be best served by beginning with the conclusion and then going back through the other chapters in order to understand how each chapter supports the claims he makes.

The primary conclusions that Scarf draws from his meticulous study of the work of these three authors is as follows: they share a belief that a king is a "viceregent" of God, they believe that kings owe their allegiance to God, they believe that kings have an inherent glory, and they believe, in a paradoxical way, that the crucified Christ is a model for kingship. As viceregent, the king makes decisions in the place of God. As such, kings must be obedient to God and therefore cannot be the absolute authority themselves. Intrinsic to the title instead the person, the glory of Kings reflects not their own power, but the power of God. And finally, the kings that these three write about do not use their countries to serve their own ends and interests, but instead love their people in a self-sacrifical way. They put their kingdoms before themselves.

These themes are presented through close examinations of a wide variety of the work of each of these three authors. These close readings are, in fact, the strongest feature of this book. Scarf does not hesitate to venture into works rarely discussed, including such texts as Charles Williams's set of poems titled The Silver Stair and several of his biographies of British Royalty. One example of Scarf at his best is a two-page explanation of Williams's Shadows of Ecstasy which focuses on the way in which King Inkamasi works as a Christ-figure; another is the way he explores an argument in Lewis's Preface to Paradise Lost regarding who should be ruled as opposed to who should do the ruling. At the same time, Scarf also spends a good amount of time on some of the better known works of these authors. He gives a particularly lucid interpretation of Charles Williams's Arthurian poems, focusing on Arthur as Christ's viceregent, on money as a symbol of sacrifice, and the importance of hierarchy and order in these texts. The time spent on Tolkien's Silmarillion discussing Iluvatar's role as a God-figure is also well done. …

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