Book Launch Party for “The Inklings and King Arthur”!

While I probably won’t be getting to the live launch at Texmoot, I’m pleased to be a part of the team of scholars that brought these great essays together. If this is the kind of thing that interests you, check out the book launch on January 1st, attend Texmoot live, and consider contributing to the blog call I put out early this week on Inklings and King Arthur materials.

The Oddest Inkling

IA coverI am happy to announce that The Inklings and King Arthur is scheduled for publication on January 1st, 2018, and TexMoot has the honor of hosting the book release party!

This celebration will take place between noon and 1:30, during lunch. Dr. Corey Olsen will introduce this new collection of scholarship. The editor, Sørina Higgins, and the cover artist, Emily Austin, will discuss their work. Copies will be available for purchase. Please register for TexMoot and join us to celebrate the release of this long-expected book!

Here is information about the book:

in 2013, a previously-unpublished work by J.R.R. Tolkien appeared: The Fall of Arthur, his only explicitly Arthurian writing.  The publication of this extraordinary poem revealed subtle connections between “The Matter of Britain” and the rest of JRRT’s legendarium, and thus invited an examination of the theological, literary, historical, and linguistic implications of the Arthurian writings of all the…

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The Words C.S. Lewis Made Up: Re/Anti/Un/Ness

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 ninth in the series on words that C.S. Lewis coined. The previous two posts (Disredemption and Viricidal) were a little dark; hopefully this week’s sketch lightens things up a week.  

It was the Unblank button that did me in. I was setting up my slides for a lecture and looked down at the new tech set up. Among the buttons that control the project was the “Blank” screen button and–wait for it–its logical opposite: Unblank. Really? That’s the best they could do? This seems to me to be a repeat of the “The Door is Ajar” silliness of talking cars in the 80s.

But the tradition of throwing words onto the beginning or end a word is a long and dis/honourable one. Some of these stick with us, like dysfunctional or mistake. Others have disappeared, like the peculiar forms unabandoned, unabsoiled, unabsolute, unabsolved, unabuilyeit, disabridge, and disafforest. Others change form over time, so that we still say “unable” but the word “unability” has become “inability” and “unablety” has become “disability.” Other verbicidal forms we wish would disappear, like all the prefixes and suffixes attached to “truth” these days. Many of these words are unaccounted for because we forget they are prefixes at all (like the “a” in “unaccounted”).

Here are some of C.S. Lewis’ humorous–if not terribly elegant–uses of prefixes and suffixes to make his point in a new and interesting way.


I suspect many have said the word “unvalued” in the adjectival form to mean something or someone who is not properly valued. John Bail in vol. 1 of his 1551 treatise with the snappy title, The first two parts of the Actes, or vnchast examples of the Englysh votaryes, uses it as a verb: “in hys mouthe myght vnualue or dysable their masses.”

Lewis, though, tried to use “unvalue” as a noun. It is in his dialogue with philosopher C.E.M. Joad on “The Pains of Animals” that Lewis suggests that a single instance of pain where there is no accompanying fear or reflection on the pain is, from the point of view of the one who experiences the pain, essentially not pain, but a sensation. “Unvalue” may have been a good rhetorical invention for the purpose, but in this context it simply means “nil value,” so just a variation of “value” rather than its opposite. The noun in a better sense was attempted by John Ruskin in an obscure Daily Telegraph piece of 1864, “Intrinsic value or goodness in some things, and … intrinsic unvalue or badness in other things.” Still, not a terribly elegant word.

In any case, Lewis was not alone in reaching for this word, though doubtless he thought he was. Though rare, the word “unvalue” is actually attested in two kinds of 20th century literature: philosophy books that no one reads and tax surveys that no one should read. Exciting stuff.


While Lewis found most of his made-up words were inelegant–and in some cases we’d agree– he liked this one. While Lewis coined “letterlessness” in a letter to his father on Mar 1st, 1917, to capture the (for him, blissful) state of not having any letters he had to write, the adjective “letterless” was already in play for a long time. “Letterless” meant “unlettered” or illiterate in the earliest 16th and 17th centuries. It took on a more tactile sense later, even referring to an unmarked grave in the 18th century. By this time it was also being used for the person who has no letters to receive or write, and Lewis uses it himself as a teenager.

Still, we know how much Lewis detested letter writing: “it is an essential of the happy life that a man would have almost no mail and never dread the postman’s knock” (Surprised by Joy 143). I wish for him that the afterlife is some state of letterlessness–though few of us hope that heaven is letterless in the Renaissance sense of the word.


Lewis had a way of looking at things upside down. This is the G.K. Chesterton in him, though I suspect that he comes by the trait honestly. David Mark Purdy has argued in Both Sides of the Wardrobe (edited by Rob Fennell)–and I think argued correctly–that The Screwtape Letters is not a parody or satire exactly, but an inverted parody or inverted satire. This “double inversion” gives Screwtape it’s peculiar disorienting and bracing quality.

This isn’t the only time that Lewis tried to think in terms of double inversion. In English Literature in the Sixteenth Century he coined “antiparody” as an academic word to describe a certain kind of phenomenon:

“The excellent lyric ‘All my lufe leif me not’ … belongs to a large class [of] …  ‘antiparodies’ (if I may coin a most necessary word): the conversion of popular and secular songs to devout purposes” (English Literature in the Sixteenth Century 112).

Lewis makes the observation that there is a feature of Medieval and early Renaissance poetry that converts popular and secular songs to devout purposes, such as a hymn or sacred poetry. Thus it is a kind of parody, but lacking the humour or mocking tone altogether. These folks songs will go on to make up some of the early Protestant hymns and the poetic books that the Puritans read, and began as parodies and drinking songs—and often with bawdy content. While the word is thrown about academic circles these days and means something different, Lewis enjoyed the subversive nature of this inversion that took up the popular poem and made it religious.

Not Thinkable-out

In 5 Dec 1949 letter to American correspondent Dr. Warfield M. Firor, Lewis wrote:

“I don’t think ‘incomprehensible’ in the Creed or ‘passing comprehension’ [Phil 4:7] mean what is usually thought. It doesn’t mean, I am told, simply unintelligible, like a book in an unknown tongue. It means not thinkable-out, not capable of being fully summed up or intellectually mastered).”

Here Lewis uses “not thinkable-out” as a nonce word to show the difference between something that is incomprehensible in the way we use that word today, and something that is indescribable (in its various uses). A more elegant usage would be “not think-out-able”–but that grammar break may have stretched him too much. Like the concept Lewis was trying to describe, sometimes words are elusive.


We have already seen that Lewis played with words in his children’s works, though I had missed some of the tradition of those words when I wrote the piece. “Re-snuggled” might have occurred in literature before Lewis, but I cannot find it. Neither is it necessary to reach very far to imagine the concept. I bet no kid reading the sentence in which it occurred ever had doubts.

Here is the passage from the Narnian prequel, The Magician’s Nephew:

“Fledge trotted to and fro, sniffing and whinnying. The children tip-toed this way and that, looking behind every bush and tree. They kept on thinking they saw things, and there was one time when Polly was perfectly certain she had seen-a tall, dark figure gliding quickly away in a westerly direction. But they caught nothing and in the end Fledge lay down again and the children re-snuggled (if that is the right word) under his wings. They went to sleep at once” (The Magician’s Nephew ch. 12).

The words “snug” and “snuggle” have an almost onomatopoeia quality to them, don’t they? To snuggle in is an important activity, and perhaps deserves to have been put in the “re-” category a long time ago. Alas, this word hasn’t been taken up, which is true of almost none of Lewis’ neologisms and borrowed nonce words.

The Words C.S. Lewis Made Up

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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 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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