The Inklings and Arthur Series Index

This series that celebrated the release of The Inklings and King Arthur: J. R. R. Tolkien, Charles Williams, C. S. Lewis, and Owen Barfield on the Matter of Britain has been one of the best blog series that I have ever seen. This pleases me, since nothing could compliment Sørina Higgins’ editorial work on the Oxford Inklings and their Arthurian contexts more than great public writing. The series is filled with excellent articles by leading academics, emerging scholars, and independent writers and artists from various countries in Europe and North America.

Part of the success of this series was the continued editing excellence and comment moderation by guest editor, David Llewellyn Dodds. David is no stranger to the world of “Inklings Online,” and as readers will know, is one of the important contributors to the work of Charles Williams and modern Arthuriana in the last generation. It was a thrill to have such a high-profile editor, I am very proud to have hosted the series.

Here is a list of the posts that were in the Inklings and Arthur Series:

Post #1: “The Launch of The Inklings and King Arthur” by blog host and C.S. Lewis scholar Brenton Dickieson

Post #2: “Inklings and Arthur Series Introduction” by series editor and Charles Williams scholar David Llewellyn Dodds

Post #3: “The Argument Continues: Late 20th Century Christian and Pagan Depictions of Arthur and the Grail” by Suzanne Bray, professor of British literature and vivilisation

Post #4: “A Personal Reflection on Logres and The Matter of Britain” by Stephen Winter, Anglican minister and Tolkienist

Post #5: “‘The Name is Against Them’: C.S. Lewis and the Problem of Arthur” by Gabriel Schenk, Arthurian scholar at Signum University

Post #6: “An ‘Easy to Read’ Modern Arthurian Epic” by Dale Nelson, academic and columnist for CSL

Post #7: The Signum University “Inklings & King Arthur Roundtable” with Inklings scholars Corey Olsen, Malcolm Guite, Sørina Higgins, and Brenton Dickieson

Post #8: “Wood-Woses: Tolkien’s Wild Men and the Green Knight” by King’s College medievalist Ethan Campbell

Post #9: “Inklings and Arthur: An Artist’s Perspective” by book designer Emily Austin

Post #10: “Arthurian Literature and the Old Everyman’s Library” by Dale Nelson, academic and columnist for CSL

Post #11: “Filling the Gaps in History: Mythopoesis as Deep Insight” by Inklings scholar Charles Huttar

Post #12: “Chesterton, Arthur, and Enchanting England” by Chesterton scholar J. Cameron Moore

Post #13: “Thor: Ragnarok and C.S. Lewis’ Mythic Passions” by Josiah Peterson, teacher in “The Rhetoric of C.S. Lewis” at The King’s College in New York

Post #14: “Charles Williams’s Arthurian Treasury” by Grevel Lindop, Charles Williams biographer

Post #15: “Tiny Fairies: J.R.R. Tolkien’s ‘Errantry’ and Martyn Skinner’s Sir Elfadore and Mabyna” by Dale Nelson, academic and columnist for CSL

Post 16: “C.S. Lewis’ Arthuriad: Survey and Speculation” by blog host and C.S. Lewis scholar Brenton Dickieson

Post 17: ““The Grail: Cup, Stone – Santo Caliz? – and the Inklings?” by David Llewellyn Dodds” by series editor and Charles Williams scholar David Llewellyn Dodds

Here are a few other Arthur-related posts on A Pilgrim in Narnia:

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Why do Evangelicals Really Reject the Environmental Movement? #earthday

On Earth Day ­­­­2015, I posted about my “water woes,” and how the struggles I have with poverty and environment are really spiritual problems. I argued that Christians are to resist the curses of Genesis 3, that we are to resist poverty, alleviate toil, heal our world, and mend relationships—both human and divine. When I wrote the initial post, there were hundreds of people with flooded houses right now in my community, many of them poor or old and with limited resources to deal with the damage. I just dropped an industrial fan off at a senior’s house. She was wearing a sling and her husband was in the hospital and her entire basement is wet.

Compound that reality globaly and we see the link between the environment and poverty.

I appreciate the personal notes of support I got, as well as some toilet replacement advice—not the normal response to my blogs. But I also got some puzzled notes. If you are right, some asked, that Genesis tells us first that we will have environmental woes, and second that we should resist those woes, why have evangelicals largely resisted the environmental movement?

Good question. This blog post is a response to that question.

First, it isn’t true that all or a majority of evangelicals resist the environmental movement. In an Evangelical Alliance survey of British evangelicals, they found that 94% agree that “it’s a Christian’s duty to care for the environment.” A study released in BC Christian News shows that Canadian evangelical leaders see the environment as a growing concern, and an area where Christians can agree with the general public. In Canada, the question of the environment and evangelicals is less a right-left question, but a regional one. Evangelicals on the prairies and industrial areas are less driven by environmental concern and generally more skeptical. On the coasts and in the North we WWisee a different picture.

Even in America, the picture is more mixed than the media often portrays. This survey shows that more than half of evangelicals think the earth is warming, but they are split on the cause (human or cyclical). Still, one-third of evangelicals think humans are causing climate change; the result is higher if black evangelicals are included, and there are hints of changing mentalities in the farming community.

With due respect to the media who choose to paint evangelicals with the same brush, I cautiously suggest a diversity among evangelicals in the United States on these issues. Still, evangelicals are more cautious than the rest of America. Although most think the climate is shifting, this study by the Public Religion Research Institute suggests that actual concern among evangelicals is lower than the larger population. This Yale study suggests the opposite, and this Barna study shows the diversity of opinions among evangelicals. But it also shows that despite evangelical skepticism, evangelicals do engage in practical environmental ways.

Despite this diversity, I think we can agree that among the skeptics of climate change doctrine and resisters of environmental movements, evangelicals have a strong voice. From Rachel Carson’s Silent Springs through the almost religious response to Al Gore environmentalism to the growing public consensus on climate change, evangelicals have had doubts.

Why the skepticism? And if the Bible suggests we “tend the Garden”—as I argued on Earth Day 2015–why do they resist pro-environment measures that could help in small ways with little cost?

I think the media has really answered this question by suggesting that evangelicals are anti-science. The logic is pretty elegant: 1) scientists say the climate is changing and humans are contributing to that; 2) evangelicals disbelieve these reports; therefore 3) evangelicals are anti-science. This is an easy generalization to support. Evangelicals, after all, reject the vast agreement about evolution among scientists. Evangelicals believe that the world began 15,000 years ago and the Big Bang is bunk. Certainly, they are anti-scientific.

In the case of environmental care, this a kind of media bait and switch.

First, evangelicals are less united on the question of young earth creationism than one might think. This Pew Forum survey shows the resistance that evangelicals have to human evolution. Still, though, one quarter to one-third of self-identifying evangelicals think humans have evolved. Asked less pointedly, like “how old is the universe?,” and we see even more diversity. The surveys also fail to divide fundamentalism and evangelicalism—communities that have overlap, but are distinct in foundational ways.

Second, the media uses the issue of creationism as a symbol of what evangelicalism is like as a whole. A picture of some guy that build Noah’s ark in his backyard, or a clip of Ken Ham talking about the grand conspiracy of the scientific elite, or a teen heartthrob Kirk Cameron watching mustachioed Ray Comfort peeling a banana, and you have your story. Once we know what these guys think, we know what all evangelicals think.

This metonymic bait and switch is poor journalism with a profound effect. What it ignores is the real story of American evangelicalism. In David Kinnaman’s You Lost Me, for example, he talks about how churches and Christians struggle about the role of science and faith. It ignores leading evangelical scientists like Francis Collins and Alister McGrath. And, especially, it ignores the millions of evangelicals in the scientific fields, working as nurses, doctors, researchers, teachers, professors, engineers, and astronomers. These mothers, brothers, friends, and lovers tap into the long Christian tradition of using scientific knowledge to resist death and disease throughout all the world in all the generations.

No, what the media and pop culture miss when they say that evangelicals are anti-science is this basic fact: evangelicals aren’t anti-science; they are anti-media and sit uncomfortably with pop culture movements.

How much this anti-media taste in evangelicals have contributed to the current moment is a question for another day. As the 538 analysts argue, “Americans hate the media.” What is key now, is that what evangelicals resist in resisting global warming conversations is not so much the scientific data, but the mass culture’s blind acceptance of it. How often have you heard someone in the media say, “the scientific consensus on climate change?” Now, how often have you seen the media show data for that consensus? Or, shockingly, how often do they present the reason for the consensus? My guess it is 10:1—for every ten times someone says “consensus” on CNN they only present evidence of that once.

Perhaps the ratio is 100 media reports about the crisis for every 1 that takes the time to make the crisis credible.

For all kinds of good and bad reasons, evangelicals resist dominant culture. I was an environmentalist as a young believer. It was the blind consensus that made me doubt that my Christian commitment to environmental care was true. I doubt I am alone on that point.

I believe this consensus. I think we are in a warming cycle that is exacerbated by human activity. I think our addiction to materialism, to comfort, to the dislocation of the poor for our own pleasure has the unintended consequences of global warming. I think we should resist, making wise choices and pressuring industry, government, and consumers to make, rule, and buy differently. I haven’t joined Al Gore’s apocalyptic enviro-movement, but I am largely in agreement with his Nobel-winning powerpoint presentation.

More personally, I think that evangelicals who write off the environmental movement as a grand conspiracy are doing great damage. They have forgotten the principles of Genesis and God’s second command to humans. More than that, they have lost a chance to stand with neighbours on a moral issue that matters. And even more than that, American (and Canadian) Christians have gained the whole world in material goods, but in doing so have sold out the world.

Still, I think that evangelical culture is wise to resist media and pop culture. They are right to avoid social media shaming techniques of dominant culture. They are probably right to look for common sense solutions in their own worlds rather than just at the grand statements of the great men and women of our day. And they are right to ask for better information from media, activists, and scientists. Skeptics can often be won over.

Why do so many American evangelicals reject global care conversations? Because we as intellectuals, writers, pundits, scientists, and activists have not demonstrated with clarity and integrity the real need. It is not that we have to get through a wall of skepticism, though that is there. It’s that we haven’t made our way through the wall of mass culture nonsense—a mass culture that has no problem disdaining evangelicalism by equating it with crammed arks, abortion clinic bombers, and Dr. Ray Comfort with his banana–and reducing evangelicals to mindless Trump supporters.

There is in evangelicalism a “Creation Care” movement, represented by popular authors (e.g., John Stott and Jonathan Merritt), signalled by a Christianity Today study guide by that name, and supported by the Evangelical Environmental Network (EEN), environmental activists since 1993, and The Evangelical Climate Initiative (ECI), a group of prominent American Evangelical leaders. The ECI’s first claim is unambiguous:

“Human-Induced Climate Change is Real and increasing international instability, which could lead to more security threats to our nation.”

The ECI Statement continues to argue that the hardest hit will be the poor and marginalized, so it is the Christian’s moral responsibility to act. Finally, they argue, the need to respond is urgent.

Resistance remains. Wayne Grudem, is a Senior Fellow of the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation (CA), which resists the ECI and mass culture environmentalism. The Cornwall Alliance also has a statement: “An Evangelical Declaration on Global Warming.” They are likewise unambiguous:

“We deny that Earth and its ecosystems are the fragile and unstable products of chance, and particularly that Earth’s climate system is vulnerable to dangerous alteration because of minuscule changes in atmospheric chemistry. Recent warming was neither abnormally large nor abnormally rapid. There is no convincing scientific evidence that human contribution to greenhouse gases is causing dangerous global warming.”

The CA response is not significant, and it is mounting its pressure upon the public discourse. A recent CA book, Resisting the Green Dragon: Dominion, Not Death by Dr. James A. Wanliss, drives the conversation forward. The promotional video uses phrases like,

  • “one of the greatest deceptions of our day”
  • “this so-called Green Dragon [Environmentalism] is seducing your children in our classrooms and popular culture, its lusts for political power now extends to the highest global levels, and its twisted view of the world elevates nature above the needs of people—even the poorest and the most helpless”
  • “environmentalism … is your enemy”
  • and in the context of “resist the Devil” (James 4:7) the host urges the listener to “rise up, slay the Green Dragon.”

Militant language and violent images are used throughout; the CA believes that environmentalism is the threat of a generation.

Conservative evangelical novelist and philanthropist Randy Alcorn indicates that resistance to environmentalism in evangelicalism may continue despite a shift in public opinion. In his foreword to Gardening Eden: How Creation Care Will Change Your Faith, Your Life, and Our World (2009) by architect and urban designer Michael Abbaté, Alcorn describe a recent speech he gave to thousands of conservative evangelical college students. He was speaking on eschatology, describing a new creation perspective, and adlibbed a rhetorical question: “of all people, as stewards [of creation], don’t you think we ought to have reasonable concern for our environment and try to take care of it?” A single person broke into spontaneous applause, and then stopped, awkwardly, apologetically. No one joined in to support the lone clapper—there was not even a token clap-along. Alcorn continued his speech, joking that one person actually applauded to “a pro-environment statement at a conservative evangelical gathering.”

Besides the lack of support for the solo clapper in Alcorn’s audience, what is intriguing is the great pains Alcorn goes to so that the reader understands that he really is theologically conservative, and generally conservative on social and political issues. This point is not insignificant, as evangelicals are concerned with avoiding a liberal label. Alcorn argues that the resistance to environmentalism among evangelicals is that it is viewed as part of “the liberal agenda.” And, therefore, “What sounds socially liberal sounds theologically liberal. And, understandably, biblical conservatives don’t want to sound liberal.”

So we see the real concerns of many evangelicals:

  1. The media and mass culture don’t understand them, so they resist the media and mass culture.
  2. There is a perception that support on this issue will mean evangelicals align themselves with the wrong people.

Evangelical environmental resisters are correct on both points. I think, though, that they miss the point on each.

On the first point, it is up to the intelligent, engaged skeptic to push through the media fog and find out if the claims of the environmental movement are true. I believe they are mostly in the right direction.

On the second point, evangelicals should never be concerned that they are connected to the wrong people. They really will be “tagged.” When an evangelical stands up and says to her church that she is an environmentalists, all kinds of images will flit through the minds of her congregation. This will include Al Gore and his million dollar speech. It will include fuzziness about Rachel Carson and DDT, failed climate accords like Kyoto, extremists like PETA covered in blood on the street, and a general sense of the “liberal” world.

But evangelicals claim to both serve and emulate the “man of no reputation.” The first concern is truth, not that our hands get dirty. Like Jesus, telling the truth may find us friends with lepers and liberals.

That’s sort of the point, actually.

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H. P. Lovecraft, C. S. Lewis, and Me.

An engaging and personal essay by Stephen Hayes, where in a journey of discovery “Perelandra restored an equilibrium in the world of my imagination.”

The Oddest Inkling

Here is a guest post by Stephen Hayes, a regular reader of this blog. It is a highly personal, spiritually-autobiographical story about his individual experience. If any of you readers would like to offer a post on Lovecraft and Williams, I’d be interested to hear a pitch.  

tree huggerCONTRIBUTOR BIO: Stephen Hayes was born in London’s East End in 1955 and studied medicine at Southampton 1974-1979. He worked for some 20 years as a Primary Care Physician and is now an Associate Dermatologist and skin cancer diagnostics educator. He blogs about skin cancer and less often about C S Lewis. He is a long-term fan of C S Lewis, and his first (Amazon kindle) novel Darwin’s Adders: A Chronicle of Pagan England 2089‘ was written after the thought came to him one July 2009 morning: ‘What if, in That Hideous Strength, the bad guys had won, and…

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“The Grail: Cup, Stone – Santo Caliz? – and the Inklings?” by David Llewellyn Dodds

As I add one last little paper to our ‘baker’s dozen’ of contributions, I look back on them, and the comments by many and varied further hands, with gratitude and delight. It seems appropriate that I return to a central part of the subject of our first contributor, Suzanne Bray, which has, of course turned upon regularly throughout the series, whether, for example, in Emily Austin’s account of her cover design, or Grevel Lindop’s of Williams’s early epic ‘treasury’ of materials and plans: the Grail. I do so in a shorter but broader, updated variant of a paper in one of the later issues of The Charles Williams Society Quarterly which have not yet been added to the trove of 127 so handily available on their website.

David Llewellyn Dodds, Guest Editor

In a very interesting letter of 26 September 1960 to the late Father Peter Milward (1925-2017), C.S. Lewis’s writes, among other things, of

“the (really senseless) question ‘What is the Grail? ’ The Grail is in each romance just what the romance exhibits it to be. There is no ‘Grail’ over and above these ‘Grails’.”

This in the context of proposing

“The whole (unconscious) effort of the orthodox scholars is to remove the individual author and individual romance”,

after having remarked,

“We have a number of romances which introduce the Grail and are not consistent with one another. No theory as to the ultimate origin is more than speculative…. Each story is told by an individual, voluntarily, with a unique artistic purpose. Hence the real germination goes on where historical, theological, or anthropological studies can never reach it – in the mind of some man of genius, like Chrétien or Wolfram.”

To take those two, Chrétien’s unfinished Perceval and Wolfram’s Parzival, how mutually consistent, or not, may they be? Chrétien describes the “grail” as “made of fine, pure gold” set with “stones of many kinds”, “the richest and most precious” in the world, while Wolfram calls the “Grâl” itself a “stein” – but what does ‘stone’ mean, here?

What might be called the main French tradition from at least Robert de Boron on, which continued into English, most notably in Malory, saw Chrétien’s Grail as the Cup of the Last Supper. So, for what it is worth, did Wagner in his Parsifal (already admired by the 16-year-old Lewis). And, this seems Rudolf Steiner’s understanding of Wolfram in his 1909 lecture, “The European Mysteries and Their Initiates” as published in English translation in the Michaelmas 1929 edition of Anthroposophy: A Quarterly Review.

Some, however, have taken Wolfram’s ‘stone’ to have nothing to do with that Cup and to designate something quite different – such as Otto Rahn, whose Crusade Against the Grail (1933) caught the approving eye of Himmler (ultimately with deadly result for Rahn). And A.E. Waite, in typically cryptic fashion, in The Secret Doctrine in Israel (1913), discussing the stone Schethiyâ , inscribed with the Divine Name and cast by God into the abyss to form the basis and be the central point of the world, says that it is

“like the lapis exilis of the German Graal legend, for it appears to be a slight stone”.

I suspect Charles Williams is playing with this, in making his second novel published, Many Dimensions (1931), a sort of sequel to its predecessor, War in Heaven (1930). These have only one character in common, Sir Giles Tumulty, but in the former a sort of prophecy is spoken of him by Prester John in terms of the Graal Cup which seems to be fulfilled in the latter in terms of the Stone from the Crown of Solomon – a Stone which is also said to have been set in a Sword wielded by Charlemagne.

Thus Williams playing with Grail Cup and Grail Stone seems very quietly to unite the Matters of Britain and France, with Solomon in the background, as he is (in other ways) in more than one mediaeval Grail romance – notably in Malory (something Williams will take up in his Arthurian poetry later in the decade, with another relic, the Ship of Solomon).

In 2003, Michael Hesemann published a book, unfortunately not yet available in English translation, Die Entdeckung des Heiligen Grals [The Discovery of the Holy Grail] – fortunately, he has very kindly supplied me with a lucid brief English summary of its matter. He notes that in Parzival,

“Wolfram calls the Grail a ‘stein’, which can mean both, a stone or a stone vessel in mediaeval German”,

and, of a description in Book 9 of the poem, that this

“resembles the presentation of both forms of the Blessed Sacrament by a priest” – pointing to the Grâl there being “a Mass chalice of stone”.

He further argues (without neglecting unique artistic purposes) that both Chrétien’s and Wolfram’s romances are concerned with an actual stone Cup now set in gold adorned with gems which has a very good claim to being indeed the Chalice of the Last Supper.

It is housed in the Cathedral of Valencia and known in Spanish as the Santo Caliz. Michael Hesemann is not the only scholar who has recently studied it in detail: it is also the subject of St. Laurence and the Holy Grail: The Story of the Holy Chalice of Valencia (2004), by Janice Bennett. Both of them can be seen in a 2015 documentary focusing on her work: The Chalice of Valencia, in the series Raiders of the Lost Past (UK)/Myth Hunters (US), which is attached below.

The movements of the Holy Chalice in Spain over many centuries are described in detail in various sources, and it has had its adventures in recent ones. For example, on the morning of 21 July 1936, shortly after the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, the Cathedral authorities in Valencia decided that it was prudent to bring the Holy Chalice into hiding. Elias Olmos Canalda, the Archivist Canon of the Cathedral, together with another of the clergy, both disguised, helped a laywoman, Maria Sabina Suey Vanaclocha, to bring it, wrapped in newspaper, to her house – three hours before the Cathedral was indeed attacked, looted, and set on fire, with iconoclastic violence, but also with concerted efforts to discover the whereabouts of the Santo Caliz – a veritable “attempt on the Graal” (to apply words from War in Heaven) – meeting, however, with no success. On 28 July the Republican Government declared the confiscation of all religious property. It was open season on the ‘Grail’, indefinitely.

The Holy Chalice was variously hidden – for example, under the cushions of a sofa – and in a secret compartment of a wardrobe (!). But, when two more “attempts” were made by vigorously searching its guardian’s house, it remained undetected (and later spent time in hiding at more distant family locations). So it continued in safety until the end of the war, after which it was, once more, thanks to its faithful guardian, in the words of Professor Dr. Salvador Antuñano Alea,

“solemnly given to the chapter on Holy Thursday, April 9, 1939, and was installed in its reconstructed chapel on May 23, 1943”,

the Fourth Sunday after Easter that year, when all those using the Roman Missal were united in prayer to God Who

“callest us to have part in that One and Most High Godhead Which is Thyself”.

While the fine details were presumably not publicly known until after the end of the Spanish Civil War – with Como Fue Salvado el Santo Caliz de la Cena: Rutas del Santo Grial desde Jerusalén a Valencia by Elias Olmos Canalda only published in 1946 – the attack on the Cathedral, and quite possibly also the return of the Holy Chalice and its reinstallation, would presumably have been in the news, in England as well.

But – tantalizing question! – did any of the Inklings ever read or hear anything of the Santo Caliz?

Tolkien’s first meeting with Roy Campbell would seem a likely opportunity for it to be discussed. He wrote to his son, Christopher, on Sunday, 6 October 1944 (Letter 83), “On Tuesday at noon I looked into the Bird and B. with C. Williams” – and “found Jack and Warnie already ensconced” with someone who turned out to be Campbell. This was followed by an evening together in Lewis’s rooms on the Thursday. He says, “If I could remember all that I heard […] it would fill several airletters.” But while the details of the Spanish Civil War which he notes include Campbell finding “St. Teresa’s hand with all its jewels” on a general’s table, after it had been looted – and abandoned in hasty retreat – there is no mention of the Grail. Then again, that does not mean it was not discussed.

In any case, I have not yet encountered any positive reference to the Santo Caliz by Williams, Tolkien, Barfield, Dyson, or the Lewis brothers (or any other Inkling). But perhaps someone else has – and can enlighten the rest of us.

Meanwhile, we might recall an earlier sentence from Lewis’s letter to Peter Milward:

“I think it is important to keep on remembering that a question can be v. interesting without being answerable and one of my main efforts as a teacher has been to train people to say those (apparently difficult) words, ‘We don’t know’.”

While we can also apply this to the identification of the Santo Caliz with the Cup of the Last Supper, and as a source of Grail romances, we can recall as well Archdeacon Julian Davenant both saying (War in Heaven, ch. 3),

“In one sense, of course, the Graal is unimportant – it is a symbol less near Reality now than any chalice of consecrated wine”

and also (in a style reminiscent of the Lady Julian of Norwich) praying (ch. 4),

“Ah, fair sweet Lord, […] let me keep this Thy vessel, if it be Thy vessel; for love’s sake, fair Lord, if Thou hast held it in Thy hands, let me take it into mine. And, if not, let me be courteous still to it for Thy sake, courteous Lord; since this might well have been that, and that was touched by Thee.”

David Llewellyn Dodds has edited the Charles Williams and John Masefield volumes of Boydell & Brewer’s Arthurian Poets series, the first while President of the Oxford C.S. Lewis Society, living at and looking after The Kilns. His most recent publication is “‘Tolkien’s Narnia’?: Lit., Lang., Saints, Tinfang, and a Mythology – or two – for Christmas”, in Tolkien Among Scholars (Lembas Extra 2016). He is currently editing  Charles Williams’s Arthurian Commonplace Book, and an early cycle of Arthurian poetry, The Advent of Galahad,  for publication (with tortoise-like slowness, if not steadiness).

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Resources on David Lyndsay’s Cult Classic “A Voyage to Arcturus”

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a scathing review of David Lindsay’s trippy SF morality tale, A Voyage to Arcturus (1920). C.S. Lewis loved this book–and so does genius actor Paul Giamatti, according to the rather peculiar, subtly hypnotic, and mildly offensive video book review by this film crew guy.

My post succeeded in getting some pushback from readers who love this book, and I’m still hoping someone will do a guest post as an evangelist for the book. Though I admitted it had its evocative moments, in the bizarre twists, unclear philosophical underpinnings, and atrocious use of adverbs, I probably underrepresented its artistic qualities.

Fair enough: if you would like to counter-argue and make a win for this century-old cult classic, my blog is open to you.

Through facebook discussions, blog comments, and a little internet sleuthing, some resources have come forward. One resource that I had forgotten about was Vakula‘s 2015 album, A Voyage to Arcturus. Vakula is a Ukrainian experimental electronic musician and composer, and interprets Arcturus with an unusual synth-pop/house melodic soundtrack including–and this is essential, I suppose–some 70s retro feel and some super-duper space sounds. Vakula has named each track after the book chapters, which helps us imagine the connections. Almost equally as weird as the book, it could be that Vakula will have more listeners than Lindsay has readers this year.

When I say the 70s vibe is essential, it is because of a resource that I had no idea existed. In 1970, B.J. Holloway directed a film version of A Voyage to Arcturus, based on a screenplay adaptation of Lindsay’s novel by himself and Sally Holloway. According to David Lindsay historical site, Violet Apple (a gem of a website), this super weird film was a student project made up of actors from the among students and faculty of Antioch College. Antioch has produced two Nobelaureates, but the filmmakers are not on that list.

This is intensely low budget, and very weird. It looks like the special effects were made by slightly disturbed children at an experimental school. There is a generous amount of nudity–and I think a rolling, tumbling love scene is meant to capture a spiritual phenomenon in the book that even a low-budget film couldn’t create special effects for–but there is less nudity and violence than the book. With the reader warned, the film really is an attempt at a faithful adaptation–though much briefer, of course–and as it is filmed in black and white, it just can’t capture the brilliant colours of this book. Props to those students–now senior citizens–who worked so hard to bring Arcturus to the screen.

As the book is out of U.S. copyright, there is a Librivox recording by Mark Nelson (who has volunteered to do a lot of fantasy reading for Librivox). You can find it here, but it is also on youtube. Rafi Simcha has also read the book aloud (see here). Props to the volunteer reader for giving voice to this obscure book from the past.

There is also a BBC dramatization from 1956 (lost? see here and here) and a couple of attempts at operas. You can see a whole list of popular and artistic interpretations of A Voyage to Arcturus in the Violet Apple index. The Violet Apple has a list of “Names in A Voyage to Arcturus,” which gives some analysis to one of the things that Lewis loved (and I was less excited about): the strange place and character names. You can also find the short article, “Four Approaches to A Voyage to Arcturus” there, since I was not able to help readers much on the meaning side of things.

Finally, a resource that makes me unusually happy: David Lyndsay’s A Voyage to Arcturus was a guilty pleasure of Yale über shock critic, Harold Bloom. As we have already seen, Bloom would not be alone as a great thinker who loved the book. Added to C.S. Lewis and Paul Giamatti is J.R.R. Tolkien and Philip Pullman. Whatever else his critics have to say about him, Bloom is not afraid of fantasy–though his canon is largely bereft of it.

In his The Western Canon, while predicting what books will become canonical in “the Chaotic Age” (the 20th c.), Harold Bloom includes A Voyage to Arcturus. And, of course, he may be right. In his criticism, Bloom says that,

[Arcturus is a] “remorseless drive to death, beyond the pleasure/pain principle… It is that singular kind of nightmare…in which you encounter a series of terrifying faces, and only gradually do you come to realise that these faces are terrified, and that you are the cause of the terror” (Harold Bloom, Agon: Towards a Theory of Revisionism, 208, 215).

Almost the last straightforward representative of Romantic quest literature we have is the extraordinary prose romance, A Voyage to Arcturus by David Lindsay (first published in 1 920), in which every antagonist to a Promethean quest is presented as being another form of pleasure (Harold Bloom, Yeats, 89).

And although I don’t know Bloom’s source, Vital Apple has this Bloom-Lindsay chart that’s worth sharing:

More than critical interest, though, the hint that Harold Bloom really loved A Voyage to Arcturus is that his only attempt at fiction was a continuation of Lindsay’s vision. In 1979, Bloom published The Flight to Lucifer: A Gnostic Fantasy. According to the scrupulous editors at Wikipedia, Bloom later hated the book, paid his publishers not to print any more copies, and said, “If I could go around and get rid of all the surviving copies, I would.”

That claim alone makes me want to read it … provided Bloom’s use of adverbs is better than Lindsay’s.

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Little Rooms of Imagination with Madeleine L’Engle and C.S. Lewis (Friday Feature)

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by CS Lewis iceI tell my students often enough to read the fore-matter in their textbooks. “That’s where the good stuff is,” I argue. “That’s where the author shares his or her vision for writing.”

Now, I suspect that students rarely heed my advice. And I suspect this not just because they often fail to grasp the heart of their authors–which is true–but because, as a student, I rarely did this. And I probably frequently missed the author’s real task. I skipped over the preface with its roadmap to the text ahead and moved into the book, anxious to finish as quickly as I could. I simply didn’t believe my profs when they told me the fore-matter had all the good stuff.

As a maturing reader, I’ve begun to read the fore-matter seriously. Consequently, I’ve begun to discover wonderful things hidden there.

As an aspiring writer, it was Lewis’s dedication to his Goddaughter Lucy Barfield that first caught my eye years ago.

“My dear Lucy,
I wrote this story for you, but when I began it I had not realised that girls grow quicker than books. As a result you are already too old for fairy tales, and by the time it is printed and bound you will be older still. But some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again. You can then take it down from some upper shelf, dust it, and tell me what you think of it.”
your affectionate Godfather,
C.S. Lewis

Anyone who has tried to write a story for someone they love, as I have for my niece, will know that girls certainly do grow quicker than books. But there is a hidden truth in this little dedication: there may be a stage where children pull away from fairytale or fantasy or “children’s literature,” but good readers will return again. We grow up, and we may yet again be old enough to read fancifully. As Lewis says in his essay, “On 3 Ways of Writing for Children,”

“I put in what I would have liked to read when I was a child and what I still like reading now that I am in my fifties.”

It is, I believe, the foundational rule of writing for children–or writing anything, perhaps.

Madeleine L'Engle A Wrinkle in Time

Another author that captured me when I was young shares her vision for writing in the fore-matter. I’ve transcribed the following from the audio of Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time–a book that rocked my world as a child who, like the main character, frequently baffled teachers at my inability to “get” school. Of course, I discovered later that it was at least as much that the school didn’t get me–a truth we see lived out in chapters of A Wrinkle in Time. It is only in this little note to her listeners that L’Engle tells us why this is.

Hello, this is Madeleine L’Engle. I’m going to be reading A Wrinkle in Time to you. It’s a book that almost never got published. I’d already had half a dozen books published but this was a very different one and nobody knew quite what it was or who it was for. And the general feeling was that it was much too hard for children. Well, my kids were 7, 10, and 12 while I was writing it, and at night I’d read them what I’d written during the day they said, “Oh, mother! Go back to the typewriter!” So I knew kids could understand it.

The problem is, it’s not that it’s too difficult for kids but that it’s too difficult for grown ups. Too many grown ups tend to put themselves into little rooms with windows that don’t open and doors that are locked. And they want to close themselves off from any new ideas. And you’re ready and open for new ideas, and new things, and new places, and new excitements. So I hope you’ll enjoy this book. I had a wonderful time writing it.

Isn’t that the truth, that it is us adults who struggle, often enough, to see time wrinkle and planets tilt? And because we do, we don’t often feel the cool breeze at the back of the wardrobe.

One of these traits I think we need to re-learn is to read the fore-matter of books, like when our parents read us our picture books from cover to cover. After all, who knows what we might find there?

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“C.S. Lewis’ Arthuriad: Survey and Speculation” by Brenton Dickieson

Whatever else they had in common and apart, one of the features of the central Inklings–J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and Charles Williams–is that they each have left their Arthuriad incomplete. In the case of Tolkien and Lewis, they abandoned early narrative poetry that retold the Matter of Britain and moved on to the other things that made them famous. This should not mislead the reader into thinking they had moved on from Arthur. In this post, blog host Brenton Dickieson offers a rather extensive survey of the subtle Arthurian themes and images that run through Lewis’ entire project of fiction and literary history. He then sets down his serious pen to consider where Lewis may have turned to next, had he lived past his besetting illness of 1963. Perhaps best read as a partner to Gabriel Schenk’s excellent work, this post gives the reader of Lewis a resource to think about his fiction in new ways.

David Llewellyn Dodds, Guest Editor

At a first reading, the reader would not know how important the whole Arthurian world was to C. S. Lewis. A glance at my bookshelf suggests that Lewis’ only immediately identifiable Arthurian story is That Hideous Strength. If, however, I consider unpublished pieces, his literary criticism, and his work that includes literature evocative of Arthur, the shelf begins to fill out. In my chapter for The Inklings and King Arthur, I survey Lewis’ Arthuriad in order to provide readers with a background for the various Lewis papers in the book, and to set up my own argument about how Lewis used other kinds of books (check it out—I’m pretty proud of that chapter). I wanted to share part of that survey a bit more broadly, while also taking some time to speculate in a way I can’t do in a book. Readers here will understand that I am merely playing with possibilities and that this is offered up mostly for conversation and a chance to use our imaginations.

For simplicity sake, I divided Lewis’ writing into three identifiable periods in which Lewis’ Arthurian adoration produces Arthurian work, and one more in which the grand Arthurian universe leaks into the literature he is working on. I think this will show that although Lewis only published a single Arthurian retelling—and a very loose one at that—Lewis’ work is filled with the Matter of Britain. After the lengthy survey, I then offer up the speculation of what might have come next from Lewis’ pen, if he had remained healthy. Readers can also look at my digital humanities posts about Lewis’ writing for a link we don’t get in the book, and I’d love to hear what others might irresponsibly suggest might have come next from Lewis. And this post is a bit incomplete as Don King’s critical edition of Lewis’ poetry came out after I had written the chapter; I think the survey does pretty well though, and should be read after Gabriel Schenk’s Lewis Arthuriana post. And I would encourage you to read the comments. Other Lewis scholars have come in to sharpen my response with clarifications, cautions, and additions (things I didn’t know about).

Stage One: 1915-1925

The first Arthurian period was in Lewis’ late teens. As Gabriel Shenk describes well, and as I survey a bit in my 1916 post, he discovered Malory while being tutored in preparation for Oxford entrance (Sayer 98-104). Some of this Arthurian imagery finds its way to his poetry of the era. Spirits in Bondage (1919), with poems collected at the close of World War I, contains the best of his pubescent poetry.

Lewis teenage poetry–and the poetry of his whole life–is filled with Greek, Irish, and Norse mythology, with echoes of Homer, Beowulf, the Edda, and the Matter of France. Faërie and the medieval world haunt Spirits in Bondage, and twice Arthur is evoked openly. The first is a Twilight of the Gods poem, “Victory,” in which “Roland is dead, Cuchulain’s crest is low” (line 1). Helen and Iseult turn to dust, the fairy woods are empty, Tritan has abandoned the seas, and “Arthur sleeps far hence in Avalon” (8). Avalon is evoked elsewhere in “the mists apart” (“Irish Nocturne” 17), and more overtly as the “Isle of Apples” (“Death in Battle” 3).

Curator of Lewis’ poetic project, Don W. King, has posthumously published Lewis’ most specifically Arthurian extent poem of the period. It begins:

Oh Galahad! My Galahad!
The world is old and very sad,
The world is old and gray with pain
And all the ways thereof are bad (“Lost but Found” 181; lines 1-4).

If King’s date of Christmas 1916 is correct, the poem “Decadence” reflects not only the insatiable war that was consuming Europe and would soon vie for Lewis’ future—captured in titles of poems with Arthurian romance references like “Victory” and “Death in Battle”—but also a literary death that Lewis was mourning at the time: the death of his first attempt at a novel.

During Easter holidays in 1915, sixteen-year-old Lewis began calling his childhood friend Arthur Greeves by the gallant, religious-tinged name “Galahad” (Letters I 115). On Oct 12th, 1916, Lewis wrote to Arthur-Galahad, saying that

“As to Bleheris, he is dead and I shan’t trouble his grave” (Letters I 232).

This “Bleheris” is The Quest of Bleheris, an Arthurian prose tale written in short chapters and sent to Arthur throughout Lewis’ eighteenth year (1916).[1] The serial epic is intentionally constructed in archaic English—as in Tennyson, Morris, and Spenser before him—telling the tale of a young man adrift in his appointed social station who is then suddenly thrust into the adventure of a real quest. Lewis finally buries “Bleheris”—a book that had been suffering for some time—after seventeen chapters. He promises Arthur-Galahad that he will write something soon, though he warns that he is “rather taken up with verse at present” (Letters I 232). Spirits in Bondage emerged out of the turn to verse, though none of the poems sustain a narrative. Lewis’ narrative poem Dymer (1926), written in the years following the war, has little explicitly Arthurian material, though it reads like the medieval allegorical romances that were part of the classic Arthuriad.

Stage Two: 1928-1935

Lewis’ first Arthurian period was a result of his discovery of Malory and the other Arthurian authors in his teenage years. His second Arthurian period was coincidental with his relationship with J.R.R. Tolkien. There are great chapters about Tolkien’s own Arthuriad in The Inklings and King Arthur. On Lewis’ part, his [2] Arthurian works in this period are the incomplete verse narrative, “Launcelot” (Narrative Poems 93-101), and the academic volume, The Allegory of Love (1935). “The Nameless Isle” and “Queen of Drum” from the late 20s-early 30s have some parallels with the Mordred-Guinevere storyline in the Arthuriad, but are not properly Arthurian romances. The Pilgrim’s Regress (1933) is Arthurian in flavour to the extent that it shares features of romance, shared allegorical imagery, and knightly valour with its urtext, Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress.

Because Lewis abandoned “Launcelot” early in its creation—it ends at line 296 in a moment of mounting suspense—it is difficult to know the extent of the narrative, but you can read it for yourself in the Dark Tower and Other Stories collection or in some of the poetry anthologies of Lewis’ work. What remains is a narrative that builds upon Malory and Tennyson’s characters, but with new elements to the quest (King 140-145). After a long delay and Guinever’s anxious waiting for Launcelot, first Gawain and then Launcelot return, but they are changed. The most interesting aspect of the poem may be the promising exploration of posttraumatic stress disorder—or “Shell Shock”—though it is it is possible that it was not war specifically that causes the psychologically problematic trauma.

The twentieth century introduced a golden age of Arthurian studies. While not lacking in critical reflection about the Arthuriad, previous generations were most important for their reworking of Arthurian romances and figures into their own art and literature. By the time Lewis’ magnificent book The Allegory of Love was released in 1936, the academic conversation was underway, though Lewis was at the beginning of a renewal in modern scholarship storyline/narrative taking Spenser’s Faerie Queene seriously.

Indeed, Lewis remained interested in Spenser’s Arthurian allegory throughout his life. He devoted a full chapter of The Allegory of Love and a half chapter in English Literature in the Sixteenth Century (1954) to The Faerie Queene. He also wrote essays on Spenser in 1931, 1954, 1961, and 1963, and used Spenser as a case study in both The Discarded Image and Studies in Words. In 1967, Alistair Fowler drew together and completed C. S. Lewis’ Cambridge lectures on Spenser (Spenser’s Images of Life), and I think there is merit for a full Spenser-Lewis edited volume for someone dedicated to the study.

Beyond Spenser, The Allegory of Love considers Arthurian stories throughout, as it discusses with medieval courtly love literature, including the works of Chrétien de Troyes, Thomas Usk, Malory, and the authors of the Roman de la Rose and Gawain and the Green Knight. Some of these stories were all but lost to scholarship, and Lewis’ attention to them would have caused a chuckle by some more traditionalist critics.

Stage Three: 1935-1947

That second period of Arthurian-connected work of the late 1920s through the mid-1930s did not immediately produce definitively Arthurian fiction. The first Arthurian period emerged out of Lewis’ friendship with Arthur and his discovery of Malory. The second period coincides with his friendship with Tolkien and his academic work in courtly love poetry. Lewis’ third Arthurian period was connected with his friendship with Charles Williams, which began when Allegory of Love was going to print in 1935, and with his discovery of the value of science fiction in telling worldview-laced stories.

Charles Williams first captured Lewis’ imagination with his supernatural thriller, The Place of the Lion. Over the next decade, until Williams’ death, Lewis became intimate with Williams’ incomplete Arthuriad, specifically the poetry of Taliessin Through Logres (1938) and The Region of the Summer Stars (1944), in supernatural novels like War in Heaven (1930), and in didactic form in the unfinished Arthurian Torso—edited and published posthumously by Lewis himself, who provided a commentary to the difficult text.[3] And, of course, this is the period of the Ransom Cycle, beginning with the space romance (adventure tale), Out of the Silent Planet (1937). Dr. Ransom, the hero of the Cycle and the focus of much of my chapter, takes on biblical and Arthurian mythic elements in Perelandra (1943) before he emerges as Pendragon That Hideous Strength (1945)—certainly Lewis’ most overtly Arthurian tale in print.

Stage Four: 1949-1954

This final period I have set aside from the other three because it does not produce specifically or identifiably Arthurian work, and yet it is rich in the textures of Arthur. The period, roughly 1949-1954, covers the publication of English Literature in the Sixteen Century (OHEL) and The Chronicles of Narnia. Arthur and the matter of Britain is considered throughout, as Lewis spent fifteen to twenty years studying sixteenth-century texts, many of which evoke courtly themes and Arthurian tales either implicitly or explicitly. Lewis describes how the rise of humanism and Protestantism in the sixteenth century transformed and reacted to the Medieval worldview of their predecessors. King Arthur’s court was in danger of imaginative death, but was rescued by authors like John Bale and John Leland, who painted Arthur in Protestant colours. There was space, then, for Spenser and Milton. The text of his Sixteenth Century was complete by summer of 1952, at the end of a sabbatical.

By 1949, a number of features may have coalesced for Lewis: his work in the sixteenth century generally and Spenser specifically, the editorial and commentary work on Williams’ Arthuriad, a new reading of Malory’s Morte Darthur with the release of Eugène Vinaver’s production of the Winchester manuscript in 1947, a lifetime of reading tales about chivalry, and a struggle to work out a children’s fairy tale.

This context allows for a particular consideration of the Narnian chronicles, written between 1949 and 1953. Doubtless, they are tales of chivalry. At least three of them are structured like knight’s quests, and the characters have opportunities to show knightly valour in each of the seven chronicles. They are each royal tales, though not all occur in court, with elements of “‘high style’ diction reminiscent of Sir Thomas Malory” (Ward 4). Without going deeply into the tales, a few examples will highlight the Arthurian quality of Narnia.[4]

The “high style” diction focuses at various points, particularly at the close of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (1950), during the scenes in the Calormene court in The Horse and His Boy (1954), and in moments of pomp and circumstance. Peter, Edmund, Caspian, Rilian, and (probably) Tirian are knight-kings, like Arthur. The example of knights is held up throughout the chronicles by dwarfs and talking beasts as well as humans. The pilgrims in The Silver Chair (1953) are not surprised to meet a Lady and a Knight upon the road, and the scoundrel Rabadash is held to a knight’s standard when his case is weighed by King Lune: “you have proved yourself no knight, but a traitor and one rather to be whipped by the hangman than to be suffered to cross swords with any person of honour” (Horse and His Boy 164).

The Horse and His Boy is one of the quest tales. Shasta is clearly the hero, yet the title notes Lewis’ inversive humour. Since the horse, Bree, is a decorated war horse and a Narnian of honour, the title may also hint at the idea of Shasta as Bree’s squire, a relationship evocative of Malory’s tales. The hero Reepicheep, a member of the Most Noble Order of the Lion (along with the Pevensie kings), defines honour in chivalrous terms and even challenges the hapless Eustace—doubtless better at economics than swordplay—to a duel. Indeed, Reepicheep takes chivalry to such a degree that his chess game suffered when he would sacrifice his knight or castle to save the queen, as a courtly mouse is bound to do (Dawn Treader 55). Though occasionally fierce, he was not unkind. When the bedragoned Eustace was feeling low because of his failure, Reepicheep stuck with him and said that:

…if he had Eustace at his own house in Narnia (it was really a hole not a house and the dragon’s head, let alone his body, would not have fitted in) he could show him more than a hundred examples of emperors, kings, dukes, knights, poets, lovers, astronomers, philosophers, and magicians, who had fallen from prosperity into the most distressing circumstances, and of whom many had recovered and lived happily ever afterwards. (Dawn Treader 81-82)

No other quotation, perhaps, captures the breadth of the Narnian Arthurian narrative landscape than this one. The impetuous chivalry of Reepicheep can create trouble, as does the hasty honour of King Tirian and the unicorn Jewel in The Last Battle (1956). Moreover, Narnia is almost completely devoid of courtly love tales, with the exception of the parody of one at the Tashbaan court in The Horse and His Boy.  In general, however, the moral universe of Narnia is ordered by chivalric honour.

The Magician’s Nephew (1955) is the least Arthurian of the chronicles; The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (1952) is the most influenced by the Matter of Britain. While the goal of the Dawn Treader is to search for lost kings, Sir Reepicheep is bound in his heart by a quest to the world’s end. The quest is evocative of the search for the Holy Grail, especially when Reepicheep tosses away his superfluous sword at the end of the quest: it lands upright in the sea, a moment that evokes the bookends of King Arthur’s career.

Also in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Lucy is drawn into a task to save the Dufflepuds from their invisibility. As she flips through a magic book, she comes to a spell “for the refreshment of the spirit” (121). She reads the loveliest story she’s ever encountered, but when tempted to reread it, she founds she is unable to go back to the first page. And when she tries to remember the story, it fades from page and memory: “And even this last page is going blank. This is a very queer book. How can I have forgotten? It was about a cup and a sword and a tree and a green hill, I know that much. But I can’t remember and what shall I do?” (121). It is, perhaps, a grail story that she has forgotten—and perhaps the grail story that connects the Arthurian Hallows with the Golgotha of history and Aslan’s How of Narnia.[5] These were the kinds of links that Lewis liked to make. At the beginning of Dawn Treader, thinking back to the revolutionary tale Prince Caspian (1951), the narrator says:

“Consequently, when the Pevensie children had returned to Narnia last time for their second visit, it was (for the Narnians) as if King Arthur came back to Britain, as some people say he will. And I say the sooner the better” (15).

Arthurian Critical Work

Across these four life stages, Lewis wrote essays and lectures on Arthurian-related topics throughout his life, some of which I have already hinted at. The Discarded Image, published posthumously, is a collection of Lewis’ “Prolegomena” lectures, which he gave almost yearly at Oxford between 1931-32 and his departure for Cambridge in 1954 (“The Lectures of C. S. Lewis” 447-453). Arthur is one of the topics both in the Prolegomena and in the medieval poetry that The Discarded Image introduces. There are several Arthuriana essays and reviews in Image and Imagination, written during World War II (125-136; 137-146) or in 1960-63 (217-222; 223-232; 248-276). Much of Studies of Medieval and Renaissance Literature references Arthur or focuses on Arthurian texts—typically written in the periods of WWII, 1954-56, and 1960-63—some of which I discuss pretty extensively in the chapter. “The Anthropological Approach” fits also into this latter period and tests a modern literary approach upon medieval texts, including some in the Arthuriad. Lewis also frequently used King Arthur, Arthurian literature, or the Arthurian world as examples in his popular essays.

What Was Coming Next?

There is, perhaps, a discernable pattern of Arthurian influence in Lewis’ life, his reflection on the topic, and then imaginative work that emerges from it. Lewis encounters Malory as a teenager and immediately begins trying to write an Arthurian tale (stage one). Lewis befriends Tolkien while he is working on a history of medieval love poetry, and Lewis again struggles to capture his own Arthurian story in narrative form (stage two). Lewis befriends Williams, writes critically about Williams’ Arthuriad, and then writes his own explicitly Arthurian tale (stage three). With the death of Williams, Lewis’ focussed work on his Sixteenth Century volume, and the publication of Vinaver’s Morte D’Arthur in 1947, Lewis created a world very much patterned after the best of Arthurian romances (stage four).

As there is a new concentration of Arthurian academic work in 1960-63, following his marriage and subsequent bereavement, it could be that a recovery of Arthurian critical work in of fiction work Do they help us peek ahead to what might have come from his dip pen if he had survived his illness of 1963?

The last half of the 1950s was rich for Lewis in more ways than the success of Narnia, which was largely complete by 1953. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings was finally published, Lewis’ own books were well received, he recently came off a much-needed sabbatical, he finally finished OHEL (reducing his workload) Beyond these, letter-writing had settled down a little after an uprush in the Narnian period, and his wife had convinced him that he could be cleverer about his publishing career. This led to new essays like “Screwtape Proposes a Toast,” (1959), a couple of new editions of Miracles, a lecture series on The Four Loves that spins off into a book, and a number of collections of past essays like They Asked for a Paper (1961) and Screwtape Proposes a Toast and Other Essays (finally appears in 1965), and rewrites of lectures into full books like Studies in Words (1958) and The Discarded Image (1963).

If we were only following a publication pattern, Lewis looks a little flat in the late 50s with a sudden spike after his wife died. What we see when we actually narrow in one when Lewis was working on things—as we do in my “Cheat Sheet”—we see a steady growth in completed work up until the fall after Joy died, and then a rest. Lewis became ill in parts of 1961 to 1963, but as Joe Hoffman’s chart recognizes, Lewis typically operated with a rest period after a high-output period. If we imagine that Lewis got well in 1963 instead of passing away, where would have turned?

I would argue that we may have seen some further Arthurian work emerge in the mid-1960s, had he lived (cf Green & Hooper 292-293). Lewis wrote Letters to Malcolm at an up point in 1963 and edited the lectures that become The Discarded Image—essays largely about the medieval world behind Arthur. 1960 to 1963 were rich in Arthurian essays, and we see that Lewis’ nonfiction was linked to periods of fruitful fiction writing. Here are some thoughts—completely offered as right-field speculation—of what Lewis might have turned to in the 1960s.

  • It is highly likely that Lewis would have eventually done what Alastair Fowler did in Spenser’s Images of Life. That little book brings together Lewis’ lectures on Spenser and fills them out in narrative style. Lewis may have done this and included Spenser essays that were printed in posthumous volumes.
  • Lewis had a way of coming back to old stories. The Cupid & Psyche myth resonated in him until Till We Have Faces clicked. He worked on a memoir numerous times before he settled on the philosophical approach in Surprised by Joy. I suspect that Lewis never really kept a file of projects, but when he encountered his journals or notes that might have inspired something new. What past projects might have been resurrected?
    • Along the Arthurian line, Lewis may have returned to the possibilities in his Launcelot poem, but may have found a prose adventure tale more suitable (I don’t know if he ever attempted long-form poetry after the early 30s). Certainly, as the 20th century wore on, there has been a good readership of Arthurs retold.
    • When it comes to other types of romances, the unpublished “Nameless Isle” and “Queen of Drum” may have come back to Lewis.
    • I doubt that Lewis would have ever drawn his poetry together into single books as later editors did. Not only did he lack the skill and love of editing—the only books he edited for others were two of his most important influences, Charles Williams and George MacDonald—but Lewis had in a sense given up his life as a poet. Most of the poetry that he published was printed pseudonymously or otherwise veiled, though in 1961 and 1963 Lewis’ publisher suggested returning to publishing the poetry.
  • Not Arthurian, Lewis may have turned attention to the unfinished manuscript of what posthumous editors called “After Ten Years.” This is a retelling of the Helen of Troy legend that is suggestive of rich literary and thematic possibilities if treated like Till We Have Faces.
  • Given the books he was reading in the 1960s—besides the work of his correspondents they were mostly things he had read before—I wouldn’t be surprised if Lewis turned either to critical work on Arthurian poets—perhaps even taking a more detailed swing at the new Malory manuscript work—or to another devotional book like Malcolm or Reflections on the Psalms.

Or, Lewis may have done something entirely surprising. Narnia seemed to come out of nowhere, though it was growing in him for years. Out of the Silent Planet landed on a bet. Who knows what a healthy body might have allowed for this lithe mind. I have the suspicion that something Arthurian or Arthur-tinged might have tumbled out of Lewis’ storytelling pen–partly because of the pattern of his writing, but also because it feels that his Arthuriad is incomplete. The lament of the second stanza of Lewis’ teenage poem, “Decadence,” begins with these words,

“The bows of story stand unstrung….”

In the end, whatever Lewis might have turned to, and granting that That Hideous Strength is an Arthur book, Lewis’ Arthuriad is one of these unstrung bows.

Selected Bibliography:

Christopher, Joe. “C. S. Lewis’s Lost Arthurian Poem: A Conjectural Essay,” Inklings Forever VIII (2012): 1-11. Print.

Dickieson, Brenton D.G. “The Unpublished Preface to C. S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters.” Notes and Queries 60.2 (2013): 296-298. Print.

Dodds, David Llewellyn, ed. Arthurian Poets: Charles Williams. Arthurian Studies XXIV. Rochester, NY: Boydell & Brewer, 1991. Print.a

Green, Roger Lancelyn, and Walter Hooper. C. S. Lewis: A Biography. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1974. Print.

Higgins, Iain Macleod. Writing East: The “Travels” of Sir John Mandeville. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1997. Print.

Higgins, Sørina. “Arthurian Geographies in Tolkien, Williams and Lewis.” The Bulletin of the New York C. S. Lewis Society 45.4. Print.

Hooper, Walter, ed. The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis: Vol. 1: Family Letters 1905-1929. New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 2004. Print.

—. The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis: Vol. 3: Narnia, Cambridge, and Joy 1950-1963. HarperSanFrancisco, 2007. Print.

—. “The Lectures of C. S. Lewis in the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge.” Christian Scholar’s Review 27.4 (Summer 1998): 436-453. Print.

King, Don W. “C. S. Lewis’s The Quest of Bleheris as Poetic Prose.” Plain to the Inward Eye. Abilene, TX: Abilene Christian University Press, 2013. 36-40. Print.

—. C. S. Lewis, The Poet: The Legacy of his Poetic Impulse. Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 2001. Print.

—. “Lost but Found: The ‘Missing’ Poems of C. S. Lewis’s Spirits in Bondage.” Christianity and Literature 53.2 (2004): 163-201. Print.

Lévi-Strauss, Claude. The Savage Mind. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1966. Print.

Lewis, C. S. The Allegory of Love: A Study in Medieval Tradition. London: Oxford University Press, 1936. Print.

—. All My Road Before Me: The Diary of C. S. Lewis. Ed. Walter Hooper. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998. 64-77. Print.

—. “The Anthropological Approach.” Selected Literary Essays. Ed. Walter Hooper. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1969. 301-311. Print.

—. “Dante’s Similes.” Studies in Medieval and Renaissance Literature. Ed. Walter Hooper. London: A Harvest Book, 1991. Print.

—. The Dark Tower and Other Stories. Ed. Walter Hooper. London: Fount, 1977. Print.

—. The Discarded Image: An Introduction to Medieval and Renaissance Literature. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1964. Print.

—. “Dymer.” Narrative Poems. Ed. Walter Hooper. London: Fount, 1994. 1-90. Print.

—. English Literature in the Sixteenth Century, Excluding Drama. Oxford History of English Literature. New York: Oxford University Press, 1954. Print.

—, ed. Essays Presented to Charles Williams. Freeport, NY: Books for Libraries Press, 1972.

—. “The Genesis of a Medieval Book.” Studies in Medieval and Renaissance Literature. Ed. Walter Hooper. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998. 18-40. Print.

—. “Historicism.” Fern-seed and Elephants: And Other Essays on Christianity. Ed. Walter Hooper. Glasgow: Fontana, 1975. 44-64. Print.

—. The Horse and His Boy. London: Fontana, 1980. Print.

—. Image and Imagination. Ed. Walter Hooper. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013. Print.

—. “Imagination and Thought in the Middle Ages.” Studies in Medieval and Renaissance Literature. Ed. Walter Hooper. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998. 41-63. Print.

—. The Last Battle. London: Fontana, 1980. Print.

—. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. London: Fontana, 1980. Print.

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[1] The incomplete and unpublished MS. of “The Quest of Bleheris” is available at the Bodleian, MS. Eng. lett. c. 220/5. I have prepared a transcription, which I hope to publish soon and am presenting at the Taylor conference with a panel on Bleheris in June.

[2] See chapter one, “The Matter of Britain in the Works of Owen Barfield, J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and Charles Williams” by Sørina Higgins; chapter eight, “The Elegiac Fantasy of Past Christendom in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Fall of Arthur” by Cory Grewell; chapter ten, “The Stripped Banner: Reading The Fall of Arthur as a Post-World War I Text” by Taylor Driggers; and chapter thirteen, “In the World Walking for the Woe of Men: Guinever in The Fall of Arthur” by Alyssa House-Thomas.

[3] Williams also wrote a number of Arthurian poems in the 1920s; Lewis does not take these into account in Arthurian Torso. I would argue that The Chapel of the Thorn, Williams’ 1912 dramatic poem only recently published, is a kind of grail story, and thus in the spectrum of Arthurian tales. See The Chapel of the Thorn.

[4] See also chapter eleven, “Arthurian Waste Lands and Renewal in Lewis and Eliot” by Jon Hooper, which explores Arthurian and quest imagery in the Narniad in great detail.

[5] Green and Hooper (252) note “the plenteous riches of the Arthurian Cycle” in the table and the stone knife. They also add that the Ramandu’s kingdom is patterned after the Fisher King’s castle. In reading a draft of this chapter, Charles Huttar noted that Walter Hooper records a conversation in which Lewis said that Aslan’s “brightness and a sweet odour” found their source in medieval grail descriptions (Past Watchful Dragons 97).

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