Leatherhead and Literary Coincidence, with C.S. Lewis and H.G. Wells

I encountered the town of Leatherhead first in H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds (1897). It is one of a dozen or so English place names that meant nothing to me as a young reader. As an adult, armed with an atlas–and now in a world filled with nerds nice enough to make maps like the one below–I can trace the movements of the narrator as he survives against all odds in the collapse of his civilization.

As distant as I was to the real places that Wells enjoins with his alien invasion, any close reader of The War of the Worlds will feel the inch-by-inch journey of the refugees on the road. Curiosity at the landing of the Martians is slain by bloodshed, and then the reality sinks in: England, the seat of the greatest civilization on the planet, a nation of such ingenuity and culture and military might that it has retained its domination over the world for centuries, is reduced to ash and clay in the casual rural genocide.

What I didn’t know about The War of the Worlds was that it was working a science fiction angle into the form of an invasion tale that caught on in the late 19th century after George Tomkyns Chesney’s, The Battle of Dorking: Reminiscences of a Volunteer (1871). While this evocative little book isn’t terribly well written, it seems to have struck at the heart of England’s (and later Europe and America’s) fear of being caught as a superpower in complacency. The Battle of Dorking describes the inch-by-inch defeat of England by an unnamed Germanic country, beginning with the utter destruction of the fleet to the hillside showdown in Surrey. In “On Stories,” Lewis critiqued The War of the Worlds for getting lost in the minutiae of the escape from the Martians in Surrey, and certainly the Dorking tale could have benefited from Lewis’ advice.

I don’t think it is a coincidence that in Chesney the ground zero of The Other Power’s invasion is Dorking, Surrey, while in Wells the Martian invasion begins across the hills in Woking, Surrey. And in each of the invasion tales the characters interact with Leatherhead. There is little doubt that Wells is centring in on Surrey to evoke Chesney’s story, but Wells’ message undercuts Chesney’s ideology at the core. While both Chesney and Wells wrote with morals in mind, Wells’ skill and imaginative scope have meant that his early experiments in “scientific romance” are with us still today.

Thinking of this Leatherhead link, I couldn’t help but remember that epic moment in C.S. Lewis’ life story:

I and one porter had the long, timbered platform of Leatherhead station to ourselves. It was getting just dark enough for the smoke of an engine to glow red on the underside with the reflection of the furnace. The hills beyond the Dorking Valley were of a blue so intense as to be nearly violet and the sky was green with frost. My ears tingled with the cold. The glorious week end of reading was before me. Turning to the bookstall, I picked out an Everyman in a dirty jacket, Phantastes, a faerie Romance, George MacDonald. Then the train came in. I can still remember the voice of the porter calling out the village names Saxon and sweet as a nut—”Bookham, Effingham, Horsley train.” That evening I began to read my new book (Surprised by Joy XI).

It was there at Leatherhead in Surrey that Lewis tracks the beginning of his spiritual defeat: “A young man who wishes to remain a sound Atheist cannot be too careful of his reading,” (SBJ XII). When it comes to his atheism being overcome by God, Lewis talks about “traps everywhere,” “fine nets and stratagems,” and being “annihilated” or “assailed” by his unscrupulous opponent, only being given a momentary “retreat” and the occasional “defence.” “Dangers lie in wait for him on every side” (SBJ XIV). Lewis uses other images for God in his conversion story–angler, hunter, chess master, storyteller–but the military imagery is resonant. “God closed in on me,” Lewis says, using a metaphor that works for most of his pictures of God in the memoir.

“In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in,” Lewis says (SBJ XIV); “I have come to give myself up” Pilgrim John says in The Pilgrim’s Regress (IX.4). As we think of the religious terms of death and surrender in Lewis’ memoir, we must remember their rootedness in everyday life: surrender is, after all, a military metaphor.

And as think of the central role of Leatherhead and Surrey in The War of the Worlds and The Battle of Dorking, I cannot help but think of Surprised by Joy as an invasion tale in the pattern of Chesney and Wells. Slowly, inch by inch, the Enemy finds his way into the heart of the empire, breaking down defences and revealing the invaded land’s heart to the world. As England’s defences were destroyed in Chesney’s Euro-invasion and Wells’ attack from outer space, so every barrier of resistance is lost in Lewis’ battle against the call of God.

Now, you must at this moment object: Brenton, are you suggesting that Lewis didn’t find Phantastes at Leatherhead station? Is Lewis bending his narrative into place to match a theme in cultural memory?

No, I don’t think that’s how it works. These kinds of literary echoes are far more complex and intuitive.

Lewis really did connect Leatherhead and the area to an important part of his life. Here is a 1929 letter to his best friend, just a year or so before his conversion to theism.

We arrived back from Sussex to day and travelled within a couple of miles of Bookham, all up the Dorking valley which I know so well. It very nearly made me weep, I got such a rich poignant whiff of memory from the old days–Phantastes, Bleheris, Dymer, Papillon, T. Edens Osborne all jumbled up. But as you know, one has the secret of these memories now and knows how to extract the spiritual sweet without falling into mere desire and regret (c. 22 Apr 1929 letter to Arthur Greeves).

Lewis has a whole series of moments like this in 1929 to 1931, each renewed encounter with a book or place or friend setting up the conversion narrative that we have in Surprised by Joy. I am not suggesting that Lewis was bending the narrative; it is more likely that the idea of telling his conversion story as a (softened) invasion tale emerged naturally from his own life of reading. The Leatherhead-Surrey connection is coincidental on one level, but is the kind of literary link that Lewis makes consistently in his life.

It is similar with H.G. Wells. The War of the Worlds is clearly patterned after The Battle of Dorking, both in genre (invasion narrative) and in the act of subtly parodying Chesney’s message. But Wells really actually lived in Woking, ground zero of the Martian landing. Like Lewis, Wells had spent his days hiking the Surrey hills, and once wrote to a friend about a new story he was publishing “in which I completely wreck and sack Woking–killing my neighbours in painful and eccentric ways” (see Phil Klass’ piece here).

There is in H.G. Well’s work both the real-life connection and the echo that shapes the tale. Coincidence? Perhaps, but this is the kind of coincidence that is central to writers that are so intertextually rich, and provides another background for reading C.S. Lewis’ famous conversion story in Surprised by Joy.

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Wood-Woses: Tolkien’s Wild Men and the Green Knight by Ethan Campbell

In his poem, ‘The Son of Lancelot’, Charles Williams imagines a year when ‘Quinquagesima’ Sunday, the last before Lent, coincides with the pagan Lupercalia (15 February). This year, Ash Wednesday falls on the Feast of St. Valentine. And, by good hap, courtly love and penitence are both featured together in Dr. Ethan Campbell’s fascinating exploration of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and what J.R.R. Tolkien makes of what and whom he finds there.

David Llewellyn Dodds, Guest Editor


J.R.R. Tolkien drew liberally from medieval English sources in constructing The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, so much so that it’s possible to teach a broad survey of medieval English literature using only his source texts. I have done this myself at The King’s College in New York City, with a course titled (somewhat uncreatively) “Tolkien’s Medieval English Sources.” The reading list featured dozens of works in Old and Middle English, dating from about AD 680 (“Caedmon’s Hymn”) to 1470 (Thomas Malory’s Le Morte D’Arthur).

The clearest Tolkien sources date back to the early centuries of English literature, from poems written in Old English dialects. For example, the kingdom of Rohan parallels the kingdoms of Denmark and Geatland in Beowulf, down to the name of its king, Théoden, the Old English word for “king.” The hymn “Where Is the Horse and the Rider?” which the Riders of Rohan sing at sunset in The Two Towers is a direct translation from the Old English elegy The Wanderer. Théoden’s speech at the Pelennor fields, “Arise, arise, riders of Théoden,” echoes the great historical poem The Battle of Maldon (where unlike the Riders of Rohan, every last English warrior dies). And Gollum and Bilbo’s “Riddles in the Dark” share the spirit of the clever, often bawdy Anglo-Saxon riddles compiled in the 10th-century Exeter Book.

Equally significant, however, if less obvious, is Tolkien’s debt to the later period of Middle English, which began in the 12th century.  Tolkien was a great admirer of Geoffrey Chaucer, especially his epic love story Troilus and Criseyde (ca. 1385). And as the new essay collection The Inklings and King Arthur details, he also loved the romances of Arthur’s knights, from Perceval to Launcelot to Tristrem, as well as Layamon’s Brut (ca. 1215), a Middle English rendering of Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Latin History of the Kings of Britain, which prominently features Arthur’s reign.

But of all the works of Middle English and Arthurian literature, Tolkien’s clear favorite was Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, a late 14th-century poem by an anonymous author known simply as the Gawain-poet. Tolkien was, along with his University of Leeds colleague E.V. Gordon, one of the first scholars to edit Sir Gawain, in 1925, making this classic poem accessible to a new generation of readers. When asked to deliver a lecture in memory of the medievalist W.P. Ker in 1953, Tolkien presented an interpretation of Sir Gawain with a focus on its Christian dynamics, a speech later printed in the collection The Monsters and the Critics and Other Essays. Tolkien also attempted a modern English translation of Sir Gawain, along with a more religious poem by the same author, the heavenly dream vision Pearl.

If you aren’t familiar with the basic story of Gawain, Tolkien’s translation is a good place to start. He not only translates accurately from line to line but also tries to capture the poem’s meter, called “alliterative long line,” a form derived from Old English poetry which was archaic even in the 1300s. A number of contemporary scholars, including Marie Borroff and the team of Malcolm Andrew and Ronald Waldron, have also produced excellent word-for-word translations, or you might choose a rendition that takes more poetic license, from an acclaimed poet like W.S. Merwin or Simon Armitage, with modern and Middle English on facing pages.

The story, in brief: Camelot has been celebrating Christmas for fifteen days (more than the usual twelve), and King Arthur is itching for new entertainment. On cue, a large green-skinned man in green armor, with a sprig of holly in one hand and a green axe in the other, rides into the hall and challenges the knights of the Round Table to a test—take one swing at him with his giant axe, and one year later, he will deliver a blow in return. Suspecting magic, no one takes him up on the offer until, shamed, the king himself volunteers. Then, doubly shamed on behalf of his comrades, Arthur’s nephew Gawain accepts the challenge. Gawain beheads the Green Knight with one swing of the axe, and lo, he does turn out to be a magical creature.  The Knight picks up his disembodied head and tells Gawain to find him a year later, at “the Grene Chapel … on New Yeres morn” (lines 451-53).

We can imagine Tolkien being powerfully drawn to every aspect of this story so far—medieval knights, codes of honor and shame, beheading, magic, a mysterious creature from the world of “fantoum and fayryȝe” (240). In his 1953 lecture, however, Tolkien actually claims not to be much interested in these preliminary elements. The real story, he argues, lies in what happens next, as Gawain faces temptation—first, his fear of death, which grows with each passing holiday; then a sexual temptation from the married lady of a castle where he reposes the following Christmas; and finally, a temptation to break the rules of a gentlemanly exchange game with his host in order to keep a magical talisman, a green girdle, which supposedly can protect him. (I’m skimming over huge chunks of the plot—please do read it for yourself!)

You may disagree with Tolkien’s view on which part of the story is most interesting, but it’s certainly true that once Gawain leaves the confines of Camelot, the poem provides intriguing material for a reader searching for the medieval sources of Tolkien’s fiction.

In his quest for the Green Chapel, Gawain travels through northern Wales and northwest England, specifically “the wyldrenesse of Wyrale” (701), the Wirral peninsula, near the modern-day city of Liverpool. In this wilderness, the poet tells us, Gawain has further adventures, fighting not just against the winter elements, but also against wild creatures, all of them alliterating on the letter “w”: “wormez” (dragons), “wolues” (wolves), and “wodwos that woned in the knarrez” (721)—“wodwos” who lived among the rocks.

But what exactly are “wodwos”? No one is certain, though etymology gives us clues. The word is apparently plural, and compound—the word “wos” might mean simply creatures or men, and “wod” probably means either “wood” (from the Old English “wudu”) or “mad, insane” (from the Old English “wod”). They are wild men, insane men, creatures of the woods. The word proliferated in the late 14th century, often to describe the hairy wild men that became popular in late-medieval artwork and heraldry. When translators at Oxford University produced the first edition of the Wycliffite Bible in the 1380s, they used the word “wodewosis” in passages like Isaiah 13:21 and Jeremiah 50:39, but revised it later to “heeri beestis” or “wielde men.”

C.S. Lewis makes a reference to “Wooses” in his remarkable description of Aslan’s execution in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, a scene filled with evil creatures:

But such people! Ogres with monstrous teeth, and wolves, and bull-headed men; spirits of evil trees and poisonous plants; and other creatures whom I won’t describe because if I did the grown-ups would probably not let you read this book—Cruels and Hags and Incubuses, Wraiths, Horrors, Efreets, Sprites, Orknies, Wooses, and Ettins. (165)

This is the type of passage Lewis lovers relish, but which causes Tolkien-loving purists (and Tolkien himself, when he read drafts of the novel as an Inkling) to grit their teeth. Lewis pulls in creatures from every corner of ancient and medieval Western mythology—Greek, Roman, Arabic, Celtic, Saxon. It’s a literary mash-up, an evil all-star team. Of course, Lewis knows full well what he is doing, and he has a reason for it—Aslan the universal figure of salvation is opposed by universal evil, however it manifests itself in stories throughout history and around the globe. But by including Wooses on the list, Lewis misses an opportunity that Tolkien exploits more fully—the chance to explore the complexity of these medieval English wild men as human beings, with a capacity for both good and evil. (To be fair, Lewis explores humanity’s complex nature in other areas of Narnia, just not here.)

In his translation of the Gawain poem, Tolkien calls the wodwos “wood-trolls that wandered in the crags.”  This might lead us to think he has in mind one of the varieties of trolls he describes in The Hobbit or LOTR, such as the stone trolls, who live the woods and turn to stone in daylight, or the cave trolls who attack the Fellowship in the caverns of Moria. But in fact, Tolkien brings them into his epic in a much more direct way, through a group of characters in The Return of the King he calls “Woses,” or “Wild Men of the Woods” (813).

These Woses, also known as the Drúedain, are described by the horse lord Elfhelm as “living few and secretly, wild and wary as beasts.” Elfhelm and the other Rohirrim are clearly frightened of them, since “they use poisoned arrows, it is said, and they are woodcrafty beyond compare.” When they speak, it is with a “deep and guttural” voice, “in a halting fashion, and uncouth words were mingled with it” (814). When their leader Ghân-buri-Ghân enters the scene, he parleys with Éomer, debating whether his band of Woses can help the riders on their journey to Minas Tirith. Their conversation is testy—Ghân refuses to merely take orders, and he constantly asserts himself in crude speech against Éomer’s seeming condescension. “Let Ghân-buri-Ghân finish!” he shouts when Éomer cuts him off. When the horse lords offer him riches and friendship, he scoffs, “Dead men are not friends to living men,” then asks only that if the kingdom of Rohan survives the war with Sauron, “then leave Wild Men alone in the woods and do not hunt them like beasts any more” (815).

If Ghân speaks true, he and his Wild Men have suffered injustice at the hands of the people of Rohan, who apparently view them as less than human. If the hobbit Merry’s frightened reaction to them is any indication, this seems plausible. The Woses have every right to hold a grudge, yet they are willing to hear out Rohan’s leaders, negotiate with them, and strive for peace.

They stand in contrast to another group Tolkien also describes as “wild men”—the Dunlendings in The Two Towers. These are a different people but similar enough to the Woses that Tolkien uses deliberately parallel language. These “wild hillmen” (515) were also victims of injustice five hundred years earlier, when, according to a brief history lesson from the Rohan rider Gamling, “the lords of Gondor gave the Mark to Eorl the Young and made alliance with him” (524), displacing the wild men. Half a millennium later, they still shout “Death to the Strawheads!” and “Death to the robbers of the North!” and yearn for Rohan’s downfall.

 

As the wizard Saruman prepares for his invasion, he stirs up these ethnic resentments, arms the Dunlendings, and looses them to pillage towns on the Rohan frontier. This scene is depicted briefly in Peter Jackson’s film version of The Two Towers, with a horde of angry, hairy men shouting “Murderers!” as they run to attack. In the novel, they join the orc army at the Battle of Helm’s Deep, where “the wild men of the Dunland fells” and “the hugest Orcs” gather on the front lines before the Hornburg gates (521).

Unfortunately, the LOTR film trilogy captures only the dark side of the Wild Men in Tolkien’s universe, and leaves the Woses of Ghân-buri-Ghân on the cutting room floor. But these “good” Woses—the ones who choose peace and cooperation rather than vengeance—turn out to be tremendously significant. The companies of Rohirrim are each “guided by a wild woodman” on the road to Minas Tirith (815), and their advance guard launches sneak attacks on the orcs lying in wait ahead. The Woses thus play a major role in the liberation of the city, clearing the way for the cavalry. Two nearly identical people groups, with similar histories of oppression, produce completely opposite outcomes. The wildness of the Wild Men, it seems, is not necessarily a curse—it frightens outsiders, and it can corrupt and degrade, but it is also a source of great strength that can be used for good.

Tolkien makes one more literary reference in his description of the Wild Men, which further underlines their complex humanity. When Merry meets the “short-legged and fat-armed, thick and stumpy” Woses, they remind him of “the Púkel-men of Dunharrow” (813), large standing stones carved into crude man-like shapes (777). The word “Púkel” derives from the Old English “pucel,” or “puca,” meaning goblin or devil. The word developed over the centuries into the Middle English “pucke,” and eventually the proper name “Puck,” the mischievous fairy sprite made famous by Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

The connection between the Woses and Puck is clearly intentional on Tolkien’s part, and the two mythical figures share qualities that are similarly ambiguous. In Shakespeare, Puck is a “shrewd and knavish sprite,” the “merry wanderer of the night” who “frights the maidens of the villagery,” makes “the breathless huswife churn” butter to no avail, and leads astray “night wanderers, laughing at their harm” (2.1.33-45)—a dangerous household imp one would do well to drive away. At the same time, Puck is a playful spirit, interested mainly in entertainment, and he does a great amount of good, for instance by bringing the play’s lovers together, then joining his fairy king Oberon in blessing the house on their wedding night:

“Not a mouse / Shall disturb this hallowed house. / I am sent with broom before / To sweep the dust behind the door” (5.1.404-407).

He is both home-wrecker and housekeeper; like the Woses, he is frightening but potentially helpful, powerful but unpredictable. Ironically, he is one of the most “human” characters in the play.

Which brings us back to Sir Gawain. When Gawain confronts the three “w” creatures—worms (dragons), wolves, and wodwos (721)—they subtly foreshadow the more serious conflict in which he is about to engage. He will confront a dragon, the traditional Christian symbol of spiritual evil, in the sorceress Morgan le Fay; a wolf, traditionally a symbol of hypocrisy and deceit (from John 10:1-16, the “wolf in sheep’s clothing” passage), in the temptress Lady Bertilak; and towering over them all, a Wood-Wose—the Green Knight himself.

Lord Bertilak, Gawain’s host at Castle Hautdesert, is a man of “the wod” (1106), and he spends each day of the Christmas season hunting deer, boar, and fox, as part of his exchange game with Gawain. We may not be surprised to discover, then, that the Green Knight is Bertilak’s alter ego, assisted by Morgan’s magic. The Knight is an even wilder man of the forest, with his green skin and woodsman’s axe, a relative of the “Green Man” figure carved into medieval cathedrals, with grass or leaves for hair (an ancestor of the modern Jolly Green Giant).  His Green Chapel turns out to be a wooded hill with a “creuisse [crevice] of an old cragge” (2183), the same word Tolkien uses to describe the wodwos “wandering in the crags.” The word the Gawain-poet himself uses to describe the wodwos’ environs, “knarrez,” also appears in his description of the Green Chapel—“knokled knarrez with knorned stonez” (2166), which Tolkien translates as “notched knuckled crags with gnarled boulders.” The language itself tells us we should expect to find wodwos here, and soon the Green Knight is towering over us.

Gawain is understandably frightened when he encounters the Green Knight on his home turf. Unless the green girdle can somehow save him, he expects the Knight to murder him in cold blood as the conclusion to their perverse beheading game. As he dismounts and ties up his horse, Gawain imagines the kind of priest who must preside over this type of rocky outdoor chapel: “Here myȝt aboute mydnyȝt / The Dele [devil] his matynnes telle!” (2187-88). He continues (in Tolkien’s translation):

“This oratory looks evil. With herbs overgrown
it fits well that fellow transformed into green
to follow here his devotions in the Devil’s fashion. …
This is a chapel of mischance, the church most accursed
that ever I entered. Evil betide it!” (2190-92, 2195-96)

He expects the devil himself to enter this grotesque church and conduct a satanic mass at midnight, a service which will end with his own death. What actually happens, though, is the complete opposite. The Knight appears, gives Gawain a scare by swinging his axe three times, but in the end gives him only a light nick on the neck, penance for having cheated at the exchange game and kept the green girdle. Instead of the ultimate penalty, Gawain receives a figurative slap on the wrist.

The Green Knight then follows up with something even more striking—rather than a “devil’s devotion,” he performs one of the most important Christian rituals. He grants Gawain absolution:

“Thou has confessed thee so clean and acknowledged thine errors,
and hast the penance plain to see from the point of my blade,
that I hold thee purged of that debt, made as pure and as clean
as hadst thou done no ill deed since the day thou wert born.” (2391-94)

The Knight doesn’t just forgive him for the personal slight—he washes him clean from all sins against anyone, every day of his life. Gawain expects a devil, but what he gets is a Christian priest who administers grace. He expects the Knight to kill him for his sin, but instead the Knight forgives his sin, with a gruff, Puck-like spirit.

Tolkien, in his 1953 lecture, calls the Knight’s words here “mock-religious terms” (96), and views the scene as something of a parody of actual Christian penance. He argues that the poem operates on multiple “planes,” with Gawain’s absolution from a real priest for real sins (which takes place earlier at Bertilak’s castle) claiming higher status than the Green Knight’s forgiveness for cheating at a parlor game. This view has much to recommend it, and many scholars have followed Tolkien’s lead in sharing it. But in my experience as a teacher, most modern readers actually do experience Gawain’s fault as a serious matter—his life is on the line, after all!—and the Green Knight’s decision to spare Gawain’s life certainly feels more significant than the intangible absolution performed in a church.

In the poet’s day, priests were typically the only people allowed to administer church-sanctioned absolutions, but the Green Knight boldly echoes the language of the sacramental ritual in his speech. In my forthcoming book The Gawain-Poet and the 14th-Century English Anticlerical Tradition, I suggest that the poet wants his audience to think about the priesthood and the sacraments in this moment, and to use the Green Knight as a means of doing so. The conflicted emotions Gawain experiences in this moment—expecting the devil and death but finding forgiveness and new life—are similar to the feelings many 14th-century Christians had about the priesthood in general. On the one hand, priests performed an essential religious duty, and were viewed as God’s conduits for salvation; on the other hand, they could be hypocrites and capable of tremendous evil.

In other words, they were deeply flawed human beings.

Tolkien captures well this dual nature, this double-edged potential of humanity, in many of his characters. Gollum is perhaps the most melodramatic example, one who swings wildly from darkness to light and accidentally saves the world while trying to destroy it. But anyone who comes into contact with the Ring and its corruption shows him or herself to have a two-sided nature—Bilbo, Boromir, Galadriel, Saruman, Théoden, Denethor, even Frodo himself—and their final outcomes, in a moral sense, are an open question until the very end. The Woses are simply another example of this long-running theme, but a unique example in that we get to see tangibly the two divergent directions these Wild Men can go.

Granted, there are creatures in Middle Earth who appear to be pure evil—the orcs, the Balrog, Shelob, etc.—but Tolkien takes care to emphasize that no human characters, including hobbits, are ever beyond redemption. If they act evil at times, it is because they have been deceived. When Sam witnesses his first “battle of Men against Men” in The Two Towers (646), he sees one of the enemy Southrons cut down by arrows from Faramir’s party. His response is a model of innocence, approved by Tolkien—he is scared and repulsed at first, then moved to empathy, as he imagines the man’s history and wonders “if he was really evil at heart, or what lies and threats had led him on the long march from his home; and if he would really rather have stayed there in peace.” When a person dies, no matter his or her background or past actions, it is a tragedy, and a fellow human’s proper response is sadness.

Like every person in Middle Earth—like every person on the actual Earth—Tolkien’s Wild Men share a complicated, contradictory nature, constantly at war with itself. They are wild, but they may choose to fight for good or evil; they look like devils but contain a spark of the divine; and their ending no one but the great Storyteller can know.

Works Cited:

Armitage, Simon, trans. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. New York: Norton, 2007.

Borroff, Marie, trans. The Gawain Poet: Complete Works. New York: Norton, 2011.

Lewis, C.S. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. 1950. New York: HarperCollins, 1994.

Merwin, W.S., trans. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. New York: Knopf, 2002.

Middle English Dictionary. Ed. Hans Kurath, Sherman McAllister Kuhn, et. al. Ann Arbor: Univ. of Michigan Press, 1956-2001. Available online.

The Poems of the Pearl Manuscript: Pearl, Cleanness, Patience, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Ed. Malcolm Andrew and Ronald Waldron. Revised edition. Liverpool UP, 2014.

Shakespeare, William. A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Ed. Barbara Mowat and Paul Werstine. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2004. Available online at Folger Digital Texts.

Tolkien, J.R.R. The Lord of the Rings. 3 vols. 1954. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1994.

Tolkien, J.R.R. The Monsters and the Critics and Other Essays. Ed. Christopher Tolkien. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1984.

Tolkien, J.R.R., trans. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Pearl, and Sir Orfeo. Ed. Christopher Tolkien. New York: Del Rey, 1975.


Ethan Campbell (MFA, PhD) is an Associate Professor of English and Literature at The King’s College in New York City, where he coordinates the English major and teaches courses on writing, Shakespeare, and the history of the English language.

You can find his academic work in journals like Fifteenth-Century StudiesChristianity and LiteratureMythlore, and Academic Questions. Besides teaching undergraduate students, he has written popularly on faith-based addiction recovery programs. You can find him on the amazingly appropriate twitter handle, @ProfGawain.

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Joan Slonczewski’s “A Door Into Ocean” and C.S. Lewis’ “Out of the Silent Planet”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the face of it, Joan Slonczewski and C.S. Lewis make an odd pair. The first is a living American microbiologist writing highly technical science fiction in environmental, feminist, lesbian, and pacifist streams, while the second was a British literary historian writing Christian scientifiction in the modernist strain with little care for hard science. Both academics, as their research was so different, A Door Into Ocean (Door, 1987) is a much different kind of book than Out of the Silent Planet (OSP, 1937).

Despite this, there are some similarities between the book. OSP is the story of a clueless English academic kidnapped while on holiday and taken to another planet, Malacandra, to be sacrificed by the native population to their gods. Breaking an age-long silence between the planets, men have finally found the technological means out of their world. The desire to invade Malacandra is split between the motivations of the two main villains: one wishes to protect the human race by spreading it among the stars, while the other wants gold. Neither a full-scale colonization project nor the complete extraction of Malacadra’s resources takes place as the men from earth stand trial to test their humanity. They are found to be human, but bent, and are ejected from the planet.

A Door Into Ocean is also the story of two-fold invasion upon a peaceful planet. For 10,000 years, Shora has silently circled the patriarchal, capitalistic planet of Valedon, itself a part of a galaxy-wide empire ruled by the Patriarch. Sharers, the inhabitants of Shora, have been genetically designed to work in synchronicity with the delicately balanced ecosystem of the planet. In one way, they are absolutely unequipped to deal with an armed invasion and occupation by Valedon. They have no weapons to resist the forces, and causing death through fighting the occupiers would bring death to their own humanity.

As the book develops, the occupation brutalizes the “native” population of Shora, with no resistance except protest and an offer of healing. The suspicion grows through the book that only two kinds of people who would fail to resist when being overtaken: those with no weapons or those with a weapon too frightening to use. The occupiers must balance those chances and their own personal prejudices and ambitions as they look at themselves in the mirrors during the genocide of Shora.

Already the similarities abound. Both books invert the Martian invasion story making the civilization that we know a thin and violent thing next to the native races they encounter in the skies. Though the Sharers of Shora are decended from the ancestors of Valens and far more human-like than the three races of Malecandra, the native inhabitants of both worlds are animalian people that look like they live in primitive communities. The primitive communities of small huts, primitive tools, and hunter-gatherer ways betray their access to sophisticated technologies that grow out of their relationship to their planet, as opposed to Valen and Thulcandran (Earth-like) technocracies that all have an environmental cost. Both invaded cultures resist Earth-like capitalism, though both engage in various kinds of trade.

And both books are really about what it means to be human.

The most striking aspect of comparison is that instinct of connectivity among native, non-capitalistic populations over against European-style civilization. Both present alternative cultures to our own—peoples with personality, troubles, ingenuity, and a rugged sense of who they are. These are not mere utopias, though. In both stories, the experimental base of these native cultures is unavailable to readers, as each planet has been shaped and framed for a particular kind of peacemaking, relational trust, and technological development in harmony with indigenous life that is unknown to us. The gentle and creative alien races act like a mirror to highlight critical weaknesses in our own worldviews.

In both books, that contrast is highlighted by artificial restrictions in the language. The Sharers of Shora are restricted in that the grammar of their language disallows a certain kind of violence, in the same way that Old Solar requires a certain mythic respect for Maleldil in its very structure. Both lack words like evil, duty, and murder, and in translation to the native tongue, the plain English highlights the deeply problematic approach of colonization according to the Western civilizational pattern. It is a clever technique, though not very subtle in either book.

A Door Into Ocean is a far more complex project than what Lewis attempted—not just in its technical framework, but in its exploration of culture and human experience. While Out of the Silent Planet is a breezy space adventure that cuts the knees out of a philosophy that did not live as long as its generation, A Door Into Ocean is a deep, philosophical exploration of questions that remain central to us 30 years later. Readers might be tempted to disregard Lewis’ science fiction because of its Christian framework, and the temptation is similar with A Door Into Ocean work. If not considered carefully, Slonczewski’s structure of a female only peaceful world look tiresomely sexist (as does Lewis’ male-led world). While both books are affected by the culture of their time, neither is worse for its ideological centre—even if they each get a little preachy at times.

Though I’m always cautioning about the problem of moralistic art, I actually think it is their message that provides the strength in the moral dilemmas of both the characters and the reader. While both Christians, Lewis’ Anglicanism shaped him differently than Slonczewski’s Quakerism, but this may be one of the links between the books. Each author is working from a rooted worldview that they believe has ethical implications for a mass culture that has largely rejected what they believe to be central. It is one of the things that science fiction is good for, to use C.S. Lewis’ language.

I know that not everyone sees it this way, but I am partial to the ideas they are teasing out about technology, political leadership, faith, and gender equality. There are weaknesses in the books besides a bit of soapboxing. Lewis’ character development hasn’t reached its height yet, leaving Ransom as flat against a vertically-oriented landscape. Slonczewski’s ending to the crisis is unsatisfactory, and has the same effect of disappearing the problem that Lewis shares in OSP, though in Lewis’ Field of Arbol there is a logic for that, Protectors of the planets that can intervene. The question of providence remains unanswered in A Door Into Ocean, so the ending is far too tight for satisfaction (though it is the ending I wanted most).

Besides quibbles, there is an intriguing connection between these two authors on different ends of the social spectrum and on either sides of the golden age of SciFi. They are two books worth reading together.

Joan Lyn Slonczewski is an American microbiologist at Kenyon College and a science fiction writer who explores biology and space travel. Her books have twice earned the John W. Campbell Memorial Award for Best Science Fiction Novel: A Door into Ocean (1987) and The Highest Frontier (2011). With John W. Foster she coauthors the textbook, Microbiology: An Evolving Science (Norton). She explores her ideas of biology, politics, and artificial intelligence at her blog Ultraphyte (wikipedia bio).

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The Inklings & King Arthur Roundtable

beardsAs a follow-up to my post last week about the Inklings and Arthur roundtable, editor Sørina Higgins has posted the video of the discussion. It was a lot of fun to be a part of, and I think you’ll find it an engaging way to think about the Arthurian influences of Lewis, Tolkien, and the Inklings. If you follow the #InklingsAndArthur twitter convo, you’ll note that Sørina felt a bit out-bearded in the roundtable. It seemed to go well anyway. And do make sure to catch our Inklings & Arthur series on Wednesday all winter long!

The Oddest Inkling

This past Monday, Signum University hosted a Signum Symposium roundtable discussion celebrating the release of The Inklings and King Arthur. You can watch the recording of the event here:

Promo for the Book: 

Will King Arthur ever return to England? He already has.

In the midst of war-torn Britain, King Arthur returned in the writings of the Oxford Inklings. Learn how J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, Charles Williams, and Owen Barfield brought hope to their times and our own in their Arthurian literature. Although studies of the “Oxford Inklings” abound, astonishingly enough, none has yet examined their great body of Arthurian work. Yet each of these major writers tackled serious and relevant questions about government, gender, violence, imperialism, secularism, and spirituality through their stories of the Quest for the Holy Grail.

This rigorous and sophisticated volume of studies does so for the first time. It is edited by…

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Dale Nelson on an “Easy to Read” Modern Arthurian Epic

Two years after his Arthurian novel, That Hideous Strength, was published, and a year before he was discussing Arthur’s multiple “disqualifications” to be a “hero” with Dorothy L. Sayers, Lewis did not allow the complexities of his thoughts about King Arthur to prevent him heartily recommending to a young poet friend that he put Arthur at the heart of a new epic. Dale Nelson, whose acquaintance I happily made thanks to this blog, tells us about it in a way that will probably send the second-hand sales of this work I had never heard of before sky-rocketing.

David Llewellyn Dodds, Guest Editor


Did you ever daydream about taking time to live away from modern light, traffic, and noise, like a medieval monk?

Martyn Skinner (1906-1993) was, with Alan Griffiths and Hugh Waterman, one of three young Englishmen who, in 1930, undertook the fascinating experiment in quasi-medieval living in a Cotswold cottage that Griffiths describes in his early autobiography, The Golden String (1954/1980).   They wanted to live, as much as possible, without anything derived from the Industrial Revolution.  The austerities were so severe that, when Griffiths really did become a monk (Father Bede), he found the relatively rich monastic diet difficult to adjust to!

Griffiths had been C. S. Lewis’s pupil at Oxford, and I suppose it was through him that Lewis became acquainted with Skinner.  When Lewis heard about the Cotswold plan, he was intrigued; look up his memorable letter of 15 June 1930 to Arthur Greeves.  In time, Skinner became an Ipsden, south Oxfordshire, farmer, growing award-winning barley for the making of beer.  His health kept him out of active war service.

By 1942, Lewis was writing to “Dear Skinner” with appreciation of his “really good” poetry.  On 5 November 1947, Lewis suggested a topic to Skinner:

“Why not the long foretold return of Arthur to modern England?  Plenty of room for your satiric bent and for as much fantasy as you want. …If you’ll write the verse I’ll provide the Argument!”

– that is, Lewis would suggest either the polemical case to be made or the basic plot of the story, or both.

Lewis had made a brilliant suggestion.  Skinner went ahead with the project.  Three parts of The Return of Arthur: A Poem of the Future appeared in 1951, 1955, and 1959, and were gathered as one volume in 1966, with additional material (likely not seen by Lewis).  The Return was Skinner’s

“grandest work, for which he had to devise or adopt a metrical scheme which could be adjusted at need to convey gripping narrative, evocative description (some of his finest passages portray the beauty of the English countryside), comic strip journalism or the profoundest spiritual insights while retaining the continuity of the whole.  The triumphant result places him among the truly great poets of the English tradition and language” (Roger Ellis’s obituary of Skinner, published 12 Nov. 1993 in The Independent).

C.S. Lewis read at least portions of The Return in manuscript or typescript and sent Skinner words of praise or of disapproval. Read Return Part One and be struck by how very Lewisian it is.  I saw obvious parallels with Lewis’s “De Descriptione Temporum,” The Abolition of Man, That Hideous Strength, and The Screwtape Letters.

Picking up the haunting line “on the mere the wailing died away” from Tennyson’s “Morte d’Arthur,” Skinner begins his story by recalling that Arthur was taken to Avalon.  Now we learn that he was drawn out of his sojourn there when Merlin came to reveal to the king what has happened on earth in the ensuing millennium and a half – for the great crisis is upon us; faith has almost vanished, sound institutions are suppressed, and the very form of human beings is tampered with by genetic experimentation.  Yet one often smiles or chuckles when reading the poem.

The magician himself, you will recall, had succumbed to the wiles of the “harlot” Vivien and been imprisoned under a stone, but we learn that he remained conscious of human events, unlike Arthur in bliss.  In heaven, an angelic council determines to set Merlin free, so that he can bring Arthur up to speed about conditions on earth before his return there.  An efficient method turns out to be for the magician to escort the king on a trip down to hell – a journey often made by epic heroes, but this time with the use of infernal escalator — there to see a boastful propaganda movie.  While the assembled devils roar with delight over the footage of hell’s victories on earth – shabby housing covering the countryside and obliterating the traditional villages; bombs; concentration camps; mutilated faces – Arthur is nauseated.

The devils are obviously colleagues of Screwtape.  Hell is a technocratic corporation presided over by a Stalinesque Satan and his toadying advisors.  Solzhenitsyn’s anecdote about Soviet functionaries, applauding an apparatchik’s call for a tribute to Comrade Stalin interminably because no one had the nerve to be the first to stop, will come to mind as the devils keep tapping the electronic devices that register their admiration of the fallen archangelic Leader.

In Part Two, the focus is on farmer George Alban, his beautiful wife Mary, and their boarder, the poet Leo Pippin.  The Albans have two daughters and two sons, and George neglects them and his wife when he is recruited by King Arthur, along with a couple of dozen other men, to form the nucleus of a resistance effort against servile-state Britain.  Arthur gives them lectures at the Grange, which are not recited in Skinner’s poem.

The year is 1999, and the Third World War is over.  Britain is a combination of high-tech surveillance-based collectivism and agrarian culture.   As in many pages of Sir Thomas Malory, in this part we see very little of Arthur.  Merlin appears in time to thwart the sadistic “neo-feudal boss” Karl Kremlin Hengist, who lusts after Mary, by causing the sheep to swarm on him.  One is reminded of Merlin maddening the N.I.C.E. animals in That Hideous Strength.  George’s hero-worship of the king reminded me of the scene in Lewis’s novel in which Ransom snaps Jane Studdock out of the captivated state she is beginning to succumb to in the presence of the Pendragon.

Readers will be reminded also of Sir Edmund Spenser’s great poem.  In Skinner’s narrative, the witchlike Morgana Marsh spies on Mary and Leo, who have been walking together, discussing poetry, and visiting a cave above the sea, and concocts a film that appears to show them making love.  Intimidating, sex-blended government-enforcer Martha Proctor compels George to watch the film, and he is fooled by it.  The narrator points out a parallel with the episode, early in the Faerie Queene, in which St. George is tricked by an illusion, created by Archimago’s sprites, into believing that Una is unfaithful to him.  Taking George home with her, Morgana, with the help of an aphrodisiac, seduces him like a late-20th-century Duessa.

Like Lewis’s Mark Studdock when he begins to be initiated into the N.I.C.E., George enjoys the sense of “moving near the centre, not the rim” of Morgana’s group.  The Spenserian atmosphere continues when the beguiled George attends a Masque of Progress, like the grotesque and hilarious Pageant of the Seven Sins in Lucifera’s palace (Faerie Queene Book 1).  Here, the fuddled farmer watches the parade of “Merits”: in order, Enlightenment, Hygiene, Speed, Plenty (for man shall “live by bread alone”), World Peace, Leisure, and (played by Morgana) Luxury.   Part Two of The Return ends with Morgana’s false beauty exposed by Merlin’s power, and the masque collapsing in disorder; but – now just past the book’s halfway point — where’s George?

Part Three describes several conversions: of Mary, in Arthur’s sovereign presence; of George in a slave-labor camp, where he meets faithful Father Bennet; and of Leo, who beholds a vision of an English parish church celebrating Christmas, with light, carved Nativity, music.  Leo’s vision contrasts with the crude reality of advertisements projected on the night sky, for this collectivist Newtopian world is also consumerist.  Even Hengist undergoes conversion, thanks to the overwhelming beauty of the Grail as light shines through stained glass.

Arthur, after the anguish of Guinevere’s betrayal and the destruction of the Round Table, had mistrusted women, but Mary’s Joan of Arc-like presence restores him, and quickens the chivalric ideal. Adventures occur that reminded me of the 1960s Man From U.N.C.L.E. television series.  The poem as it concludes is less Lewisian than it was at the start.  Skinner had become interested in Jung and in Renée Haynes’ book on ESP, The Hidden Springs (1961), and suggests that Arthur’s victory over the N.I.C.E.-like Newtopians owes something to the awakened “racial memory” of the English people.  In 1959, reading material that would be included in 1966’s Part Three, Lewis objected to Skinner that King Arthur doesn’t come across as someone who had sojourned in Avalon and that Merlin doesn’t have the mystique of someone whose father was an aerial spirit.  Skinner felt that what Lewis wanted was beyond his powers.

Skinner’s versification is lively and his diction witty.  The traditional belief was that a poet should be a learned person, with a mind stocked with literature, philosophy, history, and knowledge of current events.  This learning is not acquired for the sake of showing off (though that too might have its place!), but because a major poem is the work of a capacious memory and a unifying imagination. The Return deploys everything from (uncharacteristically!) an obscene bit of untranslated Horatian Latin, to The Song of Roland, to folklore about fern-seed, to a comparison of Mary Alban with Velazquez’s Rokeby Venus, to an allusion to the atrocious treatment of Polish people by Russian forces, as documented in The Dark Side of the Moon. (This 1947 book was introduced by T. S. Eliot, and in it, years before Solzhenitsyn, informed readers about Paragraph 58 of the Soviet penal code, under which hundreds of thousands of human beings were sent to miserable fates in the Gulag.)

John Betjeman contributed the blurb for Skinner’s 1966 dust jacket:

“This is a modern epic, easy to read and an amazing piece of sustained, imaginative writing.  There are moments of beautiful description and of pathos as well as of satiric humour.”

Skinner also wrote the three volumes of Letters to Malaya, in Popean couplets, for which he won the Hawthornden Prize (1943) and the Heinemann Award (1947).   I wrote about Letters in CSL: The Bulletin of the New York C. S. Lewis Society 35:2 (Whole Number 400) (March-April 2004): 16-17.   Along with these books and The Return of Arthur, Skinner wrote Two Colloquies and Old Rectory.


Dale Nelson is (soon: was) Associate Professor of English at Mayville State University in North Dakota.  His collection Lady Stanhope’s Manuscript and Other Stories was published in Fall 2017 under Douglas Anderson’s Nodens Books imprint.  Nelson is a columnist for CSL: The Bulletin of the New York C. S. Lewis Society and the Tolkienian newsletter Beyond Bree.

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A Grief Observed: A Lecture on the Anniversary of My Parents’ Deaths

It was a little eerie returning home on Saturday evening. My wife and I went to see the Oscar-nominated SF Fairy Tale, The Shape of Water. It was cold, terribly cold. With the wind chill it was approaching -30 Celsius (below -20 Fahrenheit). As I got out of the car I smelled wood burning in the frozen air, and I remembered the night of Feb 3rd to 4th, 1990.

That night was bitter cold–even colder than the early hours of yesterday morning. My father and his girlfriend had been out for the evening, while my siblings and I watched hockey and found our way to bed. In the middle of the night I was awoken by the smell of wood burning, and then my sister was in my room. The house was on fire and my father was battling the fire in the kitchen. In terror and confusion, we found our way into the Arctic night. In the seconds that it took to move away from our burning home, the wet cloth I had for breathing was frozen in my hand. My father stood for a moment on the threshold, looked at us, then went into the house for my baby brother.

We never saw either of them again. My father was nearly 34, and my brother was nearly 3. I was 14 at the time.

The 4th of February is that day of memory for me. I’ve talked before about the power of grief, of loss, and of what it means to have an event like this in our past. Life moves ever on and on, though, and so does love and loss. The 2016 anniversary of Feb 4th was spent in St. Martha’s Hospital in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, at the bedside of my dying mother. She succumbed to cancer a week later on Feb 12th, 2016. She was 61.

What followed was a profound period of grief for me. It was unlike anything I have ever experienced, less emotional than physiological. I largely hid this experience from people in the community–not because of shame, but because I did not always know what I was experiencing.

In the wake of her death, I thought I was mostly okay. I wrote an intimate and elaborate obituary that I thought she would be proud of. Almost immediately I went back to work. It was not until last summer, a year and a half after my mother’s passing, that I started to see clearly. In all the time I thought I was on my own street, I was in a gray town of choking mist and indistinct buildings. Last summer, in my garden, my fingers in dirt, colours started to peek out of the gloom. About a month ago I began to breathe more clearly again.

I never understood, even in all the moments of grief and loss in my relatively short life, what this experience could be like.

I teach a C.S. Lewis course at The King’s College in New York City. This past week they experienced a very personal moment of loss. Distant though I was, I could see from afar how many in the campus were reeling, and generally how strong the response of staff and students was to the tragedy. I decided to add a short lecture to my course on the Fiction and Fantasy of C.S. Lewis. This lecture considers Lewis’ A Grief Observed, using my own story of loss and Lewis’ memoir of grief to draw out seven lessons we can learn about grief. While I don’t talk about the lasting damage that my period of grief has caused–my current clarity negates nothing of the past–I do share personally with my TKC students as I invite them to think Christianly about grief.

And I thought I would share the lecture with you. If this can be helpful in your own experience of grief, or in support of your thoughts about the problem of suffering in our world, or in your study of C.S. Lewis, I hope you will feel free to share it. If your own grief is very close and keen, it might perhaps be wise to come back to this in the days ahead. An intellectual response to pain is poor fare for those starving of loneliness or loss. But for those that are ready to think about grief–and to know the experience of the community of mourners in the world around you–this may be a resource for you.

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The Inklings & King Arthur Roundtable with Malcolm Guite and Sørina Higgins

On February 5, 2018, at 11am ET, Signum University will host a Signum Symposium roundtable discussion celebrating the release of The Inklings and King Arthur, edited by Chair of the Language & Literature Department Sørina Higgins. I’m pleased to have a chapter in the volume and be part of the roundtable. This is a free event so sign up here, and be sure to check out our Inklings & Arthur blog series each Wednesday this winter.

About the Event

Will King Arthur ever return to England? He already has.

In the midst of war-torn Britain, King Arthur returned in the writings of the Oxford Inklings. Learn how J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, Charles Williams, and Owen Barfield brought hope to their times and our own in their Arthurian literature. Although studies of the “Oxford Inklings” abound, astonishingly enough, none has yet examined their great body of Arthurian work. Yet each of these major writers tackled serious and relevant questions about government, gender, violence, imperialism, secularism, and spirituality through their stories of the Quest for the Holy Grail.

This rigorous and sophisticated volume of studies does so for the first time. It is edited by Sørina Higgins, with a chapter by Brenton Dickieson (Signum faculty member) and one by alumna Alyssa House-Thomas, contributions from such Inklings luminaries as Malcolm Guite and Holly Ordway, and endorsements by Michael Ward, Owen A. Barfield, Tom ShippeyVerlyn Flieger, Carol and Philip Zaleski, Michael Drout, Janet Brennan Croft, John Rateliff, and our own Corey Olsen. The cover design is by Signum student Emily Austin. Join the editor and contributors to talk about this exciting new book!

Participant Bios

Sørina Higgins is the Chair of the Department of Language and Literature at Signum University and a Ph.D. candidate, Teacher of Record, and Presidential Scholar at Baylor University. At Signum, she serves as Thesis Coordinator, Host of Signum Symposia, and Preceptor for courses on the Inklings. Her interests include British Modernism, the works of the Inklings, Arthuriana, and magic. She holds an M.A. from Middlebury College’s Bread Loaf School of English, where she wrote about Sehnsucht in the works of C. S. Lewis. She blogs about British poet Charles Williams at The Oddest Inkling. In addition to editing The Inklings and King Arthur(Apocryphile, 2018), Sørina wrote the introduction to a new edition of Charles Williams’s Taliessin through Logres(Apocryphile, 2016) and published an edition of The Chapel of the Thorn by Charles Williams (Apocryphile, 2014). As a creative writer, Sørina has published two books of poetry, The Significance of Swans (2007) and Caduceus (2012), and would be working on a novel or two if she weren’t, you know, in grad school.

Brenton Dickieson is Adjunct Professor in Theology at Maritime Christian College, Sessional Professor at the Centre for the Study of Christianity and Culture at the University of Prince Edward Island, and Instructor in Spiritual Theology at Regent College in Vancouver, BC. He also does freelance speaking and writing and is the author of the popular Faith and Fiction blog www.aPilgrimInNarnia.com. After completing a Masters degree in New Testament Studies at Regent College, Brenton moved with his wife Kerry and his son Nicolas to their native home in Charlottetown, PEI. His academic interests include how the creation of fictional universes helps in spiritual formation, theological exploration, and cultural criticism. He is now working on a PhD at the University of Chester, focusing his work on C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the Inklings.

Malcolm Guite: Poet-Priest Malcolm Guite is Chaplain of Girton College, Cambridge, and teaches at the Faculty of Divinity at the University of Cambridge. He lectures widely in England and North America on Theology and Literature and has published poetry, theology, and literary criticism and has worked as a librettist. His books include: Love, Remember(November 2017); Mariner, a spiritual biography of Samuel Taylor Coleridge (February 2017); Parable and Paradox (2016); The Singing Bowl (2013); Sounding the Seasons (2012); Theology and the Poetic Imagination (2010) and Faith Hope and Poetry (2006). Malcolm has edited two poetry anthologies for Lent and Advent: The Word in the Wilderness(2014) and Waiting on the Word (2015). Malcolm also writes Poet’s Corner, a weekly column in the Church Times. Malcolm has a particular interest in the imagination as a truth-bearing faculty and continues to reflect deeply on how poetry can stimulate and re-awaken our prayer life. Malcolm enjoys sailing, walking, old books, live music, riding his Harley Davidson motorbike and all the varieties of the British countryside and weather. Malcolm is also part of the rock band Mystery Train, regularly performing gigs at Grantchester, Cambridge and other places around Cambridgeshire. www.malcolmguite.com

Suggested Readings

Brenton’s A Pilgrim In Narnia blog is doing a 12-part series on Inklings and Arthur, running mid-January through March.

You may also want to grab one or more of the key texts that we will be discussing:

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