The Words C.S. Lewis Made Up: Curialisation

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. 

Click here for interactive chart.

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

About Brenton Dickieson

“A Pilgrim in Narnia” is a blog project in reading and talking about the work of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the worlds they touched. As a "Faith, Fantasy, and Fiction" blog, we cover topics like children’s literature, apologetics and philosophy, myths and mythology, fantasy, theology, cultural critique, art and writing. This blog includes my thoughts as I read through Lewis and Tolkien and reflect on my own life and culture. In this sense, I am a Pilgrim in Narnia--or Middle Earth, or Fairyland. I am often peeking inside of wardrobes, looking for magic bricks in urban alleys, or rooting through yard sale boxes for old rings. If something here captures your imagination, leave a comment, “like” a post, share with your friends, or sign up to receive Narnian Pilgrim posts in your email box. Brenton Dickieson is a father, husband, friend, university lecturer, and freelance writer from Prince Edward Island, Canada. You can follow him on Twitter, @BrentonDana.
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13 Responses to The Words C.S. Lewis Made Up: Curialisation

  1. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    Wow, just wow! This is richly and finely thought, and thought-provoking! Seeing the coinage in the title, I was expecting something quite different – probably to do with C.H. Haskins’ Renaissance of the Twelfth Century (1927) and the ‘clerkly’, the development of administration and law – and bureaucracy. (Intriguing that for ‘Curial’, give “Relating to the Curia, the papal court at the Vatican.”)

    “Once you make your fée a lady”… But, what were they, before – or some of them, anyway? (or, indeed, in just what ‘courtly’ sense is he using ‘lady’, and seeing Chretien doing so?) Worlds of ‘faerie’-sociology and -politicology open before us! And comparisons with Tolkien’s Elves but also ‘Smith of Wootton Major’. And Tolkien’s attention to the ‘courtly’ in both “The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth” (and the “element of pride, […] driving a man beyond the bleak heroic necessity to excess – to chivalry”) and writings about Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. And withal, as you sketch in discussing Narnia and Ransom, both Lewis and Tolkien’s (and, maybe as much Warren Lewis’s, where the Court of Louis XIV is concerned) attention to what proper ‘courtliness’ is.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I hadn’t thought at all about Warren’s French court. Hmmm. I have to read that book.
      I would like to press in more on Ransom’s court, but chose not to do it here.
      Isn’t Lewis here just suggesting that de Troyes’ E&E is just blending the fairy and lady/knight tale? So here “lady” is the technical “midon” with all the accoutrements?


      • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

        Your mention of Reepicheep brought Warren’s work suddenly to mind, as Reep always seems so ‘Musketeerish’ to me, though I have already been thinking about it a lot lately, having just read Anne Somerset’s excellent The Affair of the Poisons: Murder, Infanticide and Satanism at the Court of Louis XIV (2003) which at once complements Charles Williams’s brief account of the affair in Witchcraft (1941) and Warren Lewis’s work more generally – her second footnote is to his The Splendid Century (1953) and her second chapter, “Louis XIV and his Court”, reads like a mini-addition to Warren’s oeuvre in its own right! It also not only makes me want to reread Warren’s work but wonder if there is Warren input to Williams’s Witchcraft, written while he was in Oxford and they were conversing regularly. (Maybe Joel Heck knows…)

        You maybe right about E&E (which I also probably ought to reread), but the whole question of the encounter with faerie also including an encounter with a society – how ordered? – springs to life as intriguing in a way I had somehow never thought of. (I should probably also reread J.A.W. Bennett’s discussions of faerie in his medieval OHEL contribution, which I found fascinating.) Lewis’s remark in chapter VI of The Discarded Image also suddenly springs to mind: “In the fourteenth century the family of Lusignan boasted a water-spirit among their ancesstresses” – !


        • I have gotten all my musketeers through films, where they seem to show “bravado” in various degrees: gentlemanly but with daring. Reep is the ultimate gentlemouse, I suppose. I’m just rereading Dawn Treader now, with his friendship with the enemy (Eustace bedragoned) in solidarity and honour to the Pevensies.
          Thanks for the Somerset reference. Independent of this, I am reading Charles Taylor’s impressive “A Secular Age.” There I realize that I am woefully uneducated in the era of 1630-1730–which is the Splendid Century! I know up to the Metaphysicals and beginning in the Enlightenment/Great Awakening. I have pretended the rest didn’t exist, I guess. So I may need some background to even read Warren’s book.
          I don’t have Bennett, but I have 4 in the series (including the 17th c. that I’m avoiding). I will have to source it.


  2. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    Series comment: seeing Fr. O’Donnell’s reflections in

    including, “I’m just trying to rescue the reality of Christmas for believers by giving up ‘Christmas’ and replacing it with another word”, got me thinking of Lewis’s “Xmas and Christmas” in terms of a sort of ‘re-coining’.


    • Yeah, Lewis wasn’t ready to give that word up yet. I think “Nativity” could be a secret recovery of the religious element.
      Frankly, as a non-liturgical person, Christmas doesn’t have a lot of religious elements for me. Even Easter has had to be for me an intentional (re)covery of Christian practice.


      • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

        I was wondering about “Nativity”, too, as I read the Irish article, and like your thought that it could be a secret recovery of the religious element – I’ve just reached Tolstoy’s comments about pregnancy in the context of Princess Lisa’s experiences and the reactions of the household, in War and Peace, where there is such a sense of wonder even among the very, and variously, secularized nobility.

        I’ve been really grateful to become a more liturgical person thanks to things like recordings of liturgical music down the ages (and across the cultures) and reading Gregory Dix and (in translation) Pius Parsch, and getting to attend services in traditions very attentive to the Church’s Year as it has developed.


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