We all know C.S. Lewis as the Narnian, but behind the children’s work was his experience as a teacher of English literature, a writer about the history of literary movements, and a tinker in other forms of fiction. In that tinkering, and in his letters and essays, he would sometimes create new turns of phrase when it was needed. This is the sixth in the series on words that C.S. Lewis coined.
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Lewis dedicated some of his time to reading his friends’ draft manuscripts, and occasionally for colleagues in the field. In August 1959 Lewis did this for Eugène Vinaver, the famous publisher of a new text of Malory’s Morte Darthur. In critiquing Vinaver’s The Rise of Romance—not actually published until much later in 1971—Lewis is surprisingly self-deprecating, noting disagreements as potentially his own limitation even though he is well read in this area. Indeed, Lewis’ 1936 The Allegory of Love is a critical text in creating a revival of academic interest in the courtly love tradition. Despite the self-deprecation, Lewis is not weak in his response: the letter is full of criticisms of a rather technical nature.
One of these critiques creates the opportunity for the word “curialisation.”
Is it not possible that the … curialisation of the fairy element in Erec [Chrétien de Troyes’ Érec et Énide] is in the same way inevitable? Once you make your fée a lady–and you must do that if she is to be a proper mistress for a knight–I suspect that a good deal more curialisation follows of itself (22 Aug 1959 letter to Eugène Vinaver ).
Editor Walter Hooper suggests—and I think he is right—that the root of this word is the Latin curialis, which gets picked up in the late 15th c. as a word for “courtly.” Lewis is talking about how the courtly love poetic tradition ends up being combined with fairy lore. I will leave the eager reader to consider the curialisation of the fairy tradition in Chrétien de Troyes’ work, but a reader who is interested in the period will find The Allegory of Love a surprisingly accessible read.
Beyond his academic work, it is fun to think of the curialisation of Lewis’ own fairy tradition, The Chronicles of Narnia. If we recall the conclusion of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, there is a chapter on the hunting of the White Stag. The White Stag appears in Celtic mythology, saint traditions (including the conversion of the aptly named St. Eustace), and the English court. Without removing any of these from the background of the richly intertextual Narnian tales, we want to remember here the evasive Arthurian White Stag, who represents the mercurial nature of the Christian quest. The Pevensie children have grown into mature queens and kings, and the elusive stag draws them into a thick patch of woods where they see a lamppost that pricks long-lost memories of what had once been home.
The image of the stag-hunt occurs again as a portent of kingship in Prince Caspian–a book about how kingship is formed in one’s relationship to the stories of old Narnia, not in how one looks at court–and disastrously in the quest tale, The Silver Chair. The chapter is also intriguing in how it captures the curial air of the Pevensie’s rule–including a strong serving of the archaic Morte Darthur language that Lewis loved in storytellers like William Morris and attempted in his earliest teen fiction.
But language and poetic air are not the only Narnian Arthurian motifs. We are told in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe that tales were told and songs were sung at court. One of these tales was no doubt the story that became The Horse and His Boy–and one of the options for rereading Narnia is to slip this 5th book into the closing pages of The Lion. An intriguing departure from the Narnian template, this is a story set within the Pevensie rule, but largely independent of the Pevansies. The court scene at Tashbaan is evocative in that it is a foreign court, and the Narnian and Archenland courtiers must navigate Calormen traditions while retaining their curial manners and ethics.
Curial scenes and opportunities for courtly manners abound in the tales–not least in the resolution to Prince Caspian, in the adventures of the crew of the Dawn Treader, and in characters like Reepicheep–a gentlemouse if ever there was one. Peeking outside Narnia, Dr. Ransom’s household at St. Anne’s in That Hideous Strength is an Arthurian court, and Till We Have Faces is an adult novel set at court and echoing a number of the themes in Narnia in entirely new contexts.
Lewis is doubtless right in his dialogue with Vinaver about how the fairy tales of the late middle ages were curialised in the love poetry that arose. But Lewis’ own fairy tales have a curious habit of being curialised themselves. As self-deprecating as Lewis may have been with Vinaver–the master of the Arthurian text–Lewis’ academic work and fictional project are inextricably linked with the court traditions of the late middle ages, a point which I make in the upcoming The Inklings and King Arthur volume (which drops January 1st).
The Words C.S. Lewis Made Up
- Part 1 and Introduction: Bulverism
- Part 2: Charientocracy
- Part 3: Rebunker
- Part 4: Jollification, Uglification, and the Miserific Vision
- Part 5: Grailologist
- Part 6: Curialisation
- Part 7: Viricidal
- Part 8: Disredemption