A Call for Guest Posts: The Inklings and King Arthur with Guest Editor David Llewellyn Dodds

It is an intriguing fact of literary history that the Inklings were individually fascinated by the Arthurian legends. Christopher Tolkien’s publication of his father’s The Fall of Arthur caused a literary sensation in 2013, highlighting how deeply the Matter of Britain is in conversation with Tolkien’s legendarium. Arthurian themes run through C.S. Lewis’ fiction—including the eruption of the whole Arthurian landscape into his dystopic That Hideous Strength—and he approaches Arthurian material as a scholar. Charles Williams, who published two Arthurian books of poems and one Grail novel, left much of his work on his desk after his sudden passing in 1945. Owen Barfield’s fiction dances with Arthurian themes, and many of us encountered Arthur first through Roger Lancelyn Green’s adaptation of Morte D’Arthur.

King Arthur seems to be one of the centrifugal forces of the Inklings as a loose literary collective. It is this observation that drew a number of Inklings readers together to produce The Inklings and King Arthur, prolifically edited by Sørina Higgins. This volume contains 20 essays from leading and emerging scholars and is the essential resource for the field.

In celebration of the launch of The Inklings and King Arthur in January, A Pilgrim in Narnia is hosting a series of guest blogs on the topic. For this occasion, we have invited David Llewellyn Dodds to be a guest editor. David is doubtless the right knight for this adventure. David has an essay on Charles Williams’ The Chapel of the Thorn, an award-nominated archival publication by Sørina Higgins. David has edited the Arthurian Poets volumes for both John Masefield and Charles Williams, which fills out our Williams Arthuriad in critical ways. Beyond all that, David is a frequent commentator here on A Pilgrim in Narnia, and will help the conversation greatly.

Besides featuring some of the authors from The Inklings and King Arthur, we are opening up the series to other readers of the Matter of Britain (Arthuriana) and the Matter of Oxford (the Inklings and their friends and influences). Proposals should include a title, a summary of the blog idea, and a brief bio of the author. Please also include a writing sample, a draft of the blog, or a draft introduction to the post.

Please email all proposals by Dec 20th to inklingsandarthur@gmail.com. The series will begin in January and will hopefully extend the dialogue of the text into a new world of great readers.

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Announcement: The Wade Center Welcomes New Co-Directors Crystal and David C. Downing

Well, this is a coup! Drs. Crystal and David Downing have been appointed as Co-Directors of the Marion E. Wade Center at Wheaton College. As readers will know, the Wade is the premier North American deposit of archival and library materials for the Inklings and some of their friends and influences. The work that staff and volunteers do at the Wade is irreplaceable and gives us access to the lives and works of some of our favourite authors, including C.S. Lewis (and his brother, Warren), J.R.R. Tolkien, Dorothy L. Sayers, G.K. Chesterton, Owen Barfield, George MacDonald, and Charles Williams. My life has been changed by the Wade, and the Downings are the perfect directors-in-waiting. I have commented on their excellent work in Inklings-related work as Christian intellectuals (see herehere, and here). More than this, though, Crystal and David have each been encouraging to me in my scholarly development, and I couldn’t wish a better set of candidates on the Wade or a more important task upon the Downings.

Here is the entire press release from the Wheaton College website:

The Marion E. Wade Center is delighted to announce the appointment of Dr. Crystal Downing and Dr. David C. Downing as co-directors and co-holders of the Marion E. Wade Chair of Christian Thought. As Lisa Richmond, Director of Library and Archives at Wheaton College, explains, “The opportunity to have two such distinguished scholars leading the Wade Center is very exciting and holds great promise for continuing the Wade’s strong legacy of work on the seven authors. We are thrilled that the Downings are joining Wheaton in this role.” As co-directors, the Downings will share administrative responsibilities, and as a joint appointment they will also have significantly more time to invest in writing and research on the Wade authors. They will take up their responsibilities at the Wade Center on July 1, 2018.

Dr. Crystal Downing is currently Distinguished Professor of English and Film Studies at Messiah College, PA. She has published on a variety of topics, with much of her recent scholarship focused on the relationship between cultural theory and religious faith. Her first book, Writing Performances: The Stages of Dorothy L. Sayers (Palgrave Macmillan 2004) received an international award from the Dorothy L. Sayers Society in Cambridge, England in 2009. The thought of Sayers and C.S. Lewis is evident in Crystal’s next two books, How Postmodernism Serves (My) Faith (IVP Academic 2006) and Changing Signs of Truth (IVP Academic 2012). The success of her fourth book, Salvation from Cinema (Routledge 2016) has led to her current book project, The Wages of Cinema: Looking through the Lens of Dorothy L. Sayers. Crystal has received a number of teaching awards and was the recipient of the Clyde S. Kilby Research Grant for 2001 from the Wade Center. She holds a PhD in English from the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Dr. David Downing currently serves as the R.W. Schlosser Professor of English at Elizabethtown College, PA. He has published widely on C.S. Lewis, including Planets in Peril: A Critical Study of C.S. Lewis’s Ransom Trilogy (UMass 1992), The Most Reluctant Convert: C.S. Lewis’s Journey to Faith(IVP 2002), which was awarded the Clyde S. Kilby Research Grant for 2000, Into the Region of Awe: Mysticism in C.S. Lewis (IVP 2005), and Into the Wardrobe: C.S. Lewis and the Narnia Chronicles(Jossey-Bass 2005). David is also the editor of C.S. Lewis’s The Pilgrim’s Regress: The Wade Annotated Edition (Eerdmans, 2014). A prolific speaker and writer, David has spoken extensively throughout the U.S. and internationally. He has received numerous teaching awards and holds a PhD in English from the University of California at Los Angeles.

The Downings are the first to be jointly appointed to the Wade directorship in the more than 50-year history of the Wade Center. They follow Wade founder and first director Clyde S. Kilby (1965–1980), director Lyle W. Dorsett (1983–1990), and director Christopher W. Mitchell (1994–2013).

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Mythgard Movie Club: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Friday Feature)

I had a great time this week discussing the GenX cult classic Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. This evocative 2004 film  is rich in intertextual conversation and philosophical questions, as you can see from a couple of hours of conversation by a series of pop culture critics from Mythgard Academy. Dig out your copy of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and enjoy this conversation where the questions are almost unending. I must say, Kat Sas, Curtis Weyant, Kelly Orazi and Emily Strang did a brilliant job.


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The Words C.S. Lewis Made Up: Disredemption

Behind C.S. Lewis’ famous Narnian chronicles was his experience as a teacher of English literature, a writer about the history of literary movements, and a tinker in other forms of fiction. In that tinkering, and in his letters and essays, he would sometimes create new turns of phrase when it was needed. This is the eighth in the series on words that C.S. Lewis coined. 

First delivered as a lecture series for radio, then turned into a book, C.S. Lewis’ The Four Loves was considered to be a bit too hot to touch for American listeners in 1958. The producers of The Episcopal Radio Hour from Atlanta had fair warning. When asked if he would consider recording some talks, Lewis agreed:

The subject I want to say something about in the near future, in some form or other, is the four Loves–Storge, Philia, Eros, and Agape.This seems to bring in nearly the whole of Christian ethics. Wd. this be suitable for your purpose? Of course I shd. do it on the ‘popular’ level–not (as the four words perhaps suggest) philologically (1 May 1958 letter to Bishop Henry I. Louttit).

What might they have thought Lewis would have talked about when addressing Eros if it wasn’t erotic love? Perhaps it was Lewis’ positive vision of sexuality that disturbed the editors–a vision that became sharper for Lewis when that love was gone:

For those few years [Joy] and I feasted on love, every mode of it—solemn and merry, romantic and realistic, sometimes as dramatic as a thunderstorm, sometimes as comfortable and unemphatic as putting on your soft slippers. No cranny of heart or body remained unsatisfied (C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed, 17).

While we don’t easily blush at a statement like this today, the 1950s were different. Perhaps it was talking about sex at all that was problematic for the Americans. In any case, Lewis’ frank talk about sex caused the series to be shelved. The CD was released decades later; the sex content was left unadulterated but his cigarette was photoshopped out of the picture. American sentiments about morality really have shaped the journey of this lecture series on love.

Why did Lewis turn to the subject of love in 1958? As he says in his letter to Bishop Louttit, his interest in ethics had kept the idea of different kinds of love active in his mind–and he had been thinking about the Greek loves since the 1930s with his The Allegory of Love and his encounter with Anders Nygren’s Agape and Eros. Lewis at this time was also lecturing on “Some Difficult Words,” the kind of lectures that moved into his book, Studies in Words, published in 1960 as the book form of The Four Loves was coming to print. Lewis had been writing in his letters about different kinds of Greek ideas of love since 1954, just a couple of months after Joy Davidman moved to England with her sons.

While the connection may be coincidental, it is no doubt that by the summer of 1958 Lewis had fallen in love in a way that he never imagined was possible–or perhaps even desirable–for him. The ideas of romantic love and sex in The Four Loves are not merely theoretical, and certainly not just philological.

In The Four Loves, Lewis discusses the kinds of promises our heart makes to us and others when we fall in love. “This is true love,” our heart says to us. “It cannot be broken. Love is real this time, no matter what happened before. And though love fades for others, it will always feel this way to us.” It is in the nature of Eros to promise us that this love will never be transitory. Rather than looking down on lovers, or chastising them for their ignorance, Lewis steps back from the experience of falling love and observes its effects:

The event of falling in love is of such a nature that we are right to reject as intolerable the idea that it should be transitory. In one high bound it has overleaped the massive wall of our selfhood; it has made appetite itself altruistic, tossed personal happiness aside as a triviality and planted the interests of another in the centre of our being. Spontaneously and without effort we have fulfilled the law (towards one person) by loving our neighbour as ourselves. Simply to relapse from it, merely to “fall out of” love again is—if I may coin the ugly word—a sort of disredemption (The Four Loves, 158).

Falling out of love, then, is “a sort of disredemption.” The word’s meaning is obvious: falling out of love is like playing the drama of redemption in reverse. The word has a heartbreaking quality to it, but Lewis goes on to show the true love roots Eros in a relationship. It is Agape, the love that is self-sacrificial love, that completes Eros and creates space for its operation. Because, in the end, it will be that leap over the wall of our selfhood that will be the most challenging aspect of our relationship. When that altruistic appetite which transforms love begins to fade, it is Agape that turns the enacted drama of redemption into lifelong love.

“Disredemption” really is an ugly word–not just poetically, but in the concept itself. I am glad that the word “redemption” has no real opposite in the English language, and Lewis’ phrase here has not really caught on. Yet that sad, disredemptive potential of falling out of love no doubt remains after the word or the concept is forgotten.

The Words C.S. Lewis Made Up

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The Secret C.S. Lewis Giveaway by Damon Moore

Motivational blogger Damon Moore is having a C.S. Lewis Giveaway. This includes:

Sign up was easy by email. Do check the rules: some countries are excluded. Click here for more. And, by the way, I love the new designs of the HarperOne C.S. Lewis books considering they are cheap reprints.

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Mythgard Movie Club: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

I’m pumped about being on this Mythgard Movie Club panel. We’re beginning with this evocative film that is rich in intertextual conversation and philosophical questions. If you can find a copy of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind–or if it is hardwired into your memory–this is a free online event that will be a lot of fun. Here’s the announcement by another panellist, Kat Sas of the Raving Sanity blog and über pop culture podcaster. Sign up here.

Do you think Clementine’s holding Neil Simon’s plays is accidental?


eternal-sunshine-of-the-spotless-mindGrab the nearest copy of the collected works of Alexander Pope (or is it Pope Alexander?) and join me for the inaugural session of the Mythgard Movie Club, the brand new (and free!) program from the Mythgard Institute. I and my podcast co-host Curtis Weyant will be spearheading this new program which will meet every 6 weeks or so to discuss the films and TV shows worthy of a deep dive. We’ll be focusing primarily on speculative fiction, but that’s a very broad category and who knows where we might go!

Since we’re doing all the work to get this party going Curtis and I took the liberty of choosing the first two films. First up is my what if I were hard-pressed I would name my favorite movie of all time, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Directed by French filmmaker Michel Gondry and springing from the twisted…

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The Words C.S. Lewis Made Up: Viricidal

We all know C.S. Lewis as the Narnian, but behind the children’s work was his experience as a teacher of English literature, a writer about the history of literary movements, and a tinker in other forms of fiction. In that tinkering, and in his letters and essays, he would sometimes create new turns of phrase when it was needed. This is the seventh in the series on words that C.S. Lewis coined. 

Click here for interactive chart.

Even when Lewis’ made-up words leave a sour taste in our mouths, they still speak to our world in interesting ways. Lewis invents the word “viricidal” in a Nov 27th, 1955 letter to author Dorothy L. Sayers. It should not be confused with words for a virus-killing agent that many hoped would emerge in the wake of the Spanish Flu after WWI. The Latin root is not virus but viri, for men (as in male or husband, not people or humanity), though the older Latin sense of virus as “slime” or “sappy poison” is kind of interesting in this case.

Speaking outside of the medical world–but of a phenomenon that is no less viral–viricides would be “man-hating” or “men-murdering” people. In his letter to Sayers, Lewis actually makes the comment about his father, whom he had caricatured in his memoir, Surprised by Joy. Despite marrying a woman of equal or greater intelligence whom he adored—a woman who received a strong degree in Victorian-era Ireland–Albert Lewis often spoke down to young women. Lewis, who argued that children’s writers should face their audience man to man, not adult to child–found his father’s pedantic attitude as problematic as when adults take on a condescending tone with schoolchildren.

In Lewis’ mind, this culture of misogyny wasn’t innocent. Lewis quips to Sayers,

“It explains not only why some women grew up vapid but also why others grew up almost (if we may coin the word) viricidal.”

Lewis suspected that his father’s sexist attitude–shared by more than a few men of his age, no doubt–was not merely condescending and pedantic, but disrupted the normal patterns of social education and community for young women. The result included at least three pathways:

  1. Women who have no response to men like Papy Lewis; i.e., the “many” inferred by Lewis’ “some” victims of his father’s approach.
  2. Women who grow up “vapid,” apparently stepping out of intellectual life altogether.
  3. Women who grow up with antagonism to men.

If it is pedantic men that created a subculture of vapid women, I would like to know what has created a generation of vapid young men that sits before us, flat and uninterested and terrifyingly incurious (a generation of which I am a part). I don’t think it was condescension, so I wonder if Lewis’ experience here might be too narrow to judge what anesthetizes a generation.

But it is hard to deny, especially now in our #MeToo moment of culture, that the way we speak about women is not innocent. For every Weinsteinian monster, there is an entire system of male dominance fostered by jokes, stereotypes, and expectations in our own little circles, as well as objectification and sexism in all our popular culture. If this year’s Grammy nominations teach us anything, it is that there is a street-battle in play about how women and sex are portrayed in lyrics and videos. With important exceptions, pop music is dominated by women fusing their beauty with musical expression or men reducing women to objects of utility.

I think the recent revelations about powerful men in Hollywood (Kevin Spacey, Harvey Weinstein, and Bill Cosby) and Politics (Al Franken, Roy Moore, and President Trump) show that this is more than mere misogyny or old school attitudes: I think it demonstrates that our most powerful spaces are ruled by phallocrats who organize their spheres according to what gives them a rise. But there is no doubt to me that Lewis is right that our attitude toward girls threatens to narrow their experiences as women.

Where did this comment come from? We don’t have the letter from Sayers that prompted Lewis to coin the term “viricidal,” but it may have come from Sayers’ comment in an Aug 8th, 1955 letter that Pauline Baynes’ illustrations of Narnia were at times too effeminate for her taste. It certainly came from a lost critique Sayers gave of Surprised by Joy—historians of both Sayers and Lewis would wish this letter was extent. Her response to another piece, Lewis’ “On Science Fiction,” may partially explain the context.

Dorothy L. Sayers—a figure of importance in feminist history—seems to have left Lewis’ argument about misogyny-produced misandry without comment. She did go on to tackle the fascinating relationship of realism and fantastic invention–both in memoir writing and in fantasy writing, using Surprised by Joy and The Lord of the Rings as examples. She also bemoans in that Dec 12th, 1955 letter to Lewis that The Last Battle wouldn’t be published until March 1956, begrudging the delayed pleasure. And we must remember that this exchange began Lewis’ letter of praise to Sayers over her translation of Dante‘s Purgatorio–the last translation she would complete on her own. In the end, it seems that Sayers did manage to create a “Mutual Admiration Society” that fits its name, this time by letters and with a comparable intellect and pen-skill, namely C.S. Lewis. Careful reading of her correspondence with Lewis, though, shows that she is not afraid to critique what she sees as problematic.

In any case, this nonce word didn’t catch on. The chart above is probably capturing mostly the medical cases of viricide and virucide. The Oxford English Dictionary doesn’t include an entry on “viricidal” in the sense of man-killing or husband-killing, except as a single use of “viricide”–“For barbarous viricide condemn’d to hell”–in an improvised translation in the mid-1700s.

What is telling about why it hasn’t caught, though, is what I have left off the chart. There are definitely cases of androcide or viricide in history during times of war, but the cases of the murder of women and girls exceed all–whether in the case of missing and murdered indigenous women in Canada, or in sex-selective abortion and infanticide in China, or at just about any time in history.

And on a metaphorical level, it is evident today even with all the powerful women in our world, that women-murdering domains still rule our most powerful spaces. If I include “misogyny” on the Ngram chart above, it dwarfs all the other word occurrences so that they almost become a single line. Lewis did not have the full story, and he was probably too won over by strong, intelligent women like his mother, poet Ruth Pitter, sparring partner Elizabeth Anscombe, his wife Joy Davidman, and Dorothy Sayers herself, who had the audacity to write the essay, “Are Women Human?” But his instinct is right: the expectations that men have of girls will serve to expand or limit their potential. Even as the greatest of emerging artists, writers, teachers, managers, and scholars today are women, revelations in Washington, New York, and Hollywood should keep us aware of stories that don’t always go well.

The Words C.S. Lewis Made Up

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