The Launch of The Inklings and King Arthur

Today is the day that The Inklings and King Arthur is available now on Amazon and other bookseller lists. In 2013, a previously-unpublished work by J.R.R. Tolkien appeared: The Fall of Arthur, his only explicitly Arthurian writing.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 poem highlighted the many connections between “The Matter of Britain” and not only Tolkien’s legendarium but the work of all the Inklings. While most of Inklings Arthuriana was incomplete, obscure, or unpublished, we have to regard this legend as one of the critical connective tissues of the Oxford Inklings.

Perceiving the link, literary scholar Sørina Higgins invited an examination of the theological, literary, historical, and linguistic implications of the Arthurian writings of all the major Inklings: C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Charles Williams, and Owen Barfield. The result was The Inklings and King Arthur: J.R.R. Tolkien, Charles Williams, C.S. Lewis, & Owen Barfield on the Matter of Britain. This edited essay collection examines the Arthurian works of Tolkien, Lewis, Williams, Barfield, their predecessors, and their contemporaries. The result is a collection of 20 essays from senior and emerging scholars that offers exciting, rigorous analytical perspectives on a wide range of the Inklings’ Arthurian and related works.

This is an essential academic book, and I am proud of my own contribution, where I think about how Lewis brings various fictional worlds together in That Hideous Strength (Lewis’ only overt Arthurian novel, and one of the few Inklings pieces of Arthurian fiction to be published when it was written).

What can you do to celebrate this Inklings and Arthur showpiece?

  • You can join us for a special Inklings and Arthur blog series that will run this winter on A Pilgrim in Narnia. Each Wednesday there will be a special feature on one or more of the Inklings and the many worlds of the Matter of Britain. Posts will include writers from the volume, as well as other leading bloggers and scholars in the field. Look for posts on:
    • C.S. Lewis and the Legends of Arthur, Charles Williams’ Commonplace Book, Christian and  Pagan Depictions of the Grail, the personalization of Logres and Britain, Chesterton on the Imagination, and thoughts about history and Arthuriad.
    • I will post a little bit about my own chapter.
    • Guest Editor David Llewellyn Dodds will be overseeing the entire affair, with his own academic strength in both the Inklings and Arthurian worlds.
    • Also be sure to watch for a post by the cover artist, Emily Austin.
  • The official launch party will be on January 13th at TexMoot (at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas). I’m afraid I won’t get to the noontime party or TexMoot, but you can register for TexMoot here.
  • In a much less official capacity, you can join some rogue Inklings for a bit of a Twitter banter session tonight (January 1st at 8:00pm). Watch for the hashtag ##InklingsAndArthur, and be sure to follow them on twitter (I will be the Lewis tweeter):
  • You can review the book on your blog, or a popular magazine, or for an academic journal. If you are a Reviews Editor, send a note to inklingsandarthur@gmail.com and we’ll get you to the book’s publisher.
  • Do recommend the book to your local library.
  • Please also share the news on your own social media accounts, linking back to this post or any that will make sure the right readers find their way to the book.
  • And, of course, you can pick the book up for yourself!
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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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44 Responses to The Launch of The Inklings and King Arthur

  1. dalejamesnelson says:

    I look forward to the arrival of my copy of Dr. Higgins’s book. In the meantime, here’s a question for discussion:

    When we talk about the Matter of Britain (or, as some might prefer, the Matter of Logres), what are the books with which we should try to become familiar?

    What is needed beyond an edition of Malory’s Morte plus Sir Gawain and the Green Knight? May it be taken that pretty much everything that really counts –for the Inklings– will be found in these two books?

    Unless one is interested in tracing the “development” and elaboration of the Arthurian “mythos,” does one need books such as the following? I’m going to list ones that I happen to have on hand:

    Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Histories of the Kings of Britain (Everyman’s Library, ed. Evans)
    Quest of the Holy Grail (commonly, apparently falsely, attributed to Walter Map; translated from the French of about 1225 by Matarasso for Penguin Classics)
    Death of King Arthur (13th-century French romance, tr. Cable for Penguin Classics)
    Tristan, by Gottfried von Strassburg (ca 1210, translated by Hatto for Penguin Classics)
    Parzival (German, early 13th century?, translated by Hatto for Penguin Classics)
    Arthurian tales in The Mabinogion (translated by Thomas Jones and Gwyn Jones, an Everyman’s Library paperback)

    I acknowledge that my list doesn’t include Gildas, Wace, Nennius, Chretien de Troyes, &c.

    Moreover, does the Inklings-oriented reader need a complete text of Malory’s Morte? Penguin Classics used to have a two-volume edition of Caxton’s version of Malory. Although I’ve read that, the book I’m more acquainted with is the Oxford World’s Classics paperback of Le Morte Darthur: The Winchester Manuscript. That edition is “slightly abbreviated,” according to editor Helen Cooper. When I have taught a course including Malory, I assigned about 3/5 of this book, omitting nearly all of the Tristram de Lyonesse material. Is that Tristram material important for the Inklings?

    It would be interesting to compare notes on this topic at the outset. Possibly after the discussions have run their course, some people will have changed their view. At present, my impression is that one may say with a fair degree of confidence that what really matters for the Inklings is Malory’s Morte minus Arthur’s war with Rome and the Tristram material, plus Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. A really good degree of familiarity with this material, perhaps involving multiple readings, is much more important for an Inklings-oriented reader to acquire, than a wider reading of Arthurian texts. The reading I suggest would come to something like 450 pages. The reader setting out to explore this topic need not, then, feel daunted by the prospect of a bunch of books.

    Dale Nelson

    Like

    • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

      Good question(s)! I’d be tempted to think anything available in Everyman in their young years was (possibly) important – including Geoffrey, Wace and Layamon, Sebastian Evans’s High History of the Holy Grail translation of Perlesvaus, Lucy Allen Paton’s Morte Arthur: Two Early English Romances (1912), W.W. Comfort’s Chretien volume, the Guest Mabinogion, Marie’s Lays, and the two-volume Caxton’s Malory, and, beyond Everyman, maybe Jessie Weston’s Wolfgang’s Parzival – and Wagner (as well as Tennyson, Morris, Swinburne, and Hawker).

      But just who indeed knew which, when, and how well, is another question worth pursuing! (For instance, what the evidence we have of all that Williams had heard and noted the existence of at a fairly early date may mean for what he actually read, is a tantalizing matter!)

      I’d love to know in just what forms the Quest of the Holy Grail was available, when, as Williams’s retelling seems so compatible with it, in many ways.

      And, Dorothy L. Sayers’s Tristan in Brittany, Being Fragments of the Romance of Tristan, Written in the Twelfth Century by Thomas the Anglo-Norman (1929) and Belloc’s The Romance of Tristan & Iseult (1913) both get me wondering how widely we should be casting our net.

      Like

    • This is well on its way, but a couple of thoughts on the first question.
      Beyond Gawain, Malory and Spenser, a CSL reader should also know Chretien pretty well, and Layamon’s Brut. Perhaps after those, reading “Allegory of Love” is way to go.

      Like

      • dalejamesnelson says:

        Ah. I thought of Spenser — love the Faerie Queene! But I was thinking in terms of restricting ourselves to medieval works.

        They key to Narnia is The Faerie Queene and vice versa, I’m tempted to say. Of course that’s an exaggeration.

        Like

        • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

          That strikes me as very much ‘on target’, with an eye to the relaxed mixture of ‘things’, especially creatures, in both Spenser and Narnia – though if I had read more Ariosto (in Barbara Reynolds’ translation), I might think it an apt example as well.

          Like

      • dalejamesnelson says:

        Aha — happily, a visit to the unheated (it’s below zero herein North Dakota) outbuilding where many of my books are stored brought to light

        Chretien de Troyes – Arthurian Romances (tr. Kibler for Penguin Classics)
        Wace and Layamon – Arthurian Chronicles (tr. Evans, Everyman paperback)
        Geoffrey of Monmouth – History of the Kings of Britain (tr. Thorpe, Penguin Classics)
        Marie de France – Lais (tr. Burgess and Busby, Peng. Classics)

        Liked by 1 person

        • dalejamesnelson says:

          One more: Gerald of Wales’s Journey Through Wales and Description of Wales, the latter of which has a couple or so brief Arthurian mentions (translated by Thorpe, Penguin Classics).

          Like

  2. dalejamesnelson says:

    Aha! Your reply, David, helps us to identify two distinct topics for discussion.

    First: What were the actual Arthurian editions that the Inklings read – and at what points in their lives did they read them? Thus, for example, a good guess would be that, as a youth, C. S. Lewis read Caxton’s presentation of Malory’s Morte, in an Everyman’s Library offering of several volumes. Later in life, Lewis would have studied Vinaver’s Malory editions. To write his unfinished “Figure of Arthur,” Williams would, I suppose, have wanted to read scholarly editions of “everything” relating to the Matter of Logres. (How much of his reading in that vast forest of material would have postdated his writing of Taliessin Through Logres, at least?) As scholars, Lewis and Williams, perhaps Tolkien too, must have been widely read in medieval Arthurian sources. In this connection we would want to be sure of consulting books actually available to them – ruling out my Penguins, certainly for Williams. Your reply specifies some contemporary-to-the-Inklings books.

    Second: What books do Inklings-oriented readers need to know as primary sources (not encyclopedias, histories of literature, etc.) that contained important characters and concepts for the Inklings’ own imaginative use of the Matter of Logres? For example, if a reader is curious about Merlin thanks to his role in That Hideous Strength, will he or she find everything or nearly everything in Malory’s Morte? My comment was with reference to this second purpose, and so I hazarded the guess that Malory plus Sir Gawain and the Green Knight would actually suffice for many readers – my hunch being that there’s very little in the Inklings’ imaginative handling of the Matter of Logres that is not found in those two sources, especially Malory: Merlin, the begetting of Arthur, the sword in the stone, Guenever and Lancelot, courtly love, the ideals of the Round Table, the Fisher-King, the Dolorous Blow, the Grail adventures, the calamity of the civil war between Mordred’s forces and Arthur’s, Avalon…

    Not having my copy of Dr. Higgins’ book yet, I don’t know if it lists the Arthurian books that the Inklings are known to have read, but you have provided a partial bibliography of the sort.

    It might be appropriate during the upcoming discussions for two bibliographies, along these lines, to be compiled. They could be subdivided for which author(s), or when a given book was listed, it could be followed, in parentheses, by the name(s) of the Inkling(s) for whom the source was, or appears to be (the distinction is important), significant.

    Dale Nelson

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    • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

      I did rather mush those two together! I think Caxton’s Malory is essential for all of them, and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is obviously important for Tolkien as scholar and thinker – and, I think, to The Lord of the Rings, where the failures and success of Gawain and Frodo invite comparison and contrast – and certainly to Lewis more generally (there is that lovely photo I’ve seen somewhere of some of Lewis’s marginalia in his copy of Tolkien’s edition).

      I had also meant to mention that a lot of the relevant Everyman’s are scanned in the Internet Archive – and searchable! (I’m not sure how many of them appeared first as Temple Classics, but some certainly did, which may have been a way young Inklings met them, as well.)

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  3. dalejamesnelson says:

    And, David, it would be good to note what post-medieval sources were (a) certainly known to a given Inkling, (b) likely known to a given Inkling, and/or (c) maybe not known to any Inkling, but sho’ ’nuff of a kindred spirit.

    Which of those — a, b, or c — do you think would best describe Arthur Machen’s Grail wonder-tale “The Great Return”? Note to anyone who hasn’t read it: This story is a must if you are interested in something that is like an overlooked short story or novella by Charles Williams. Yet, so far as I know, there is no evidence that -any- of the Inklings had read it. Lewis’s library as catalogued in 1969 contained a 1948 book by Machen, Tales of Horror — I take it this was probably Tales of Horror and the Supernatural, which I further guess contained “The Great Return” (which is not a horror story). But to my knowledge Lewis never, anywhere, mentions Machen. The Machen book, whether it contained “Great Return” or not, might have been one of Joy’s books, and might be something Lewis never perused. “The Great Return” is one of the notable “Inklings stories not by an Inkling,” but perhaps no Inkling read it. You’ve pointed out to me a few intriguing indications of Williams having read some Machen (e.g. the horror story “The Great God Pan” anyway). But what about this one?

    Dale Nelson

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    • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

      Indeed! I can’t remember a “Great Return” reference for any of them, but it does seem likely (though, indeed, ‘likely’ is not ‘certainly’). I think I read it (thanks to Lovecraft putting me onto Machen?) – with great delight – before I read anything by any Inkling!

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      • dalejamesnelson says:

        Wow: what a great experience: to read and love Machen’s “Great Return” and then…discover…that…there’s this author Charles Williams, and……!

        Liked by 1 person

  4. dalejamesnelson says:

    It will be interesting to see if the forthcoming discussions confirm (or not) the notion that the Matter of Logres was of importance to the following authors in descending degree:

    Charles Williams — here the importance of the Matter of Logres is obvious, with the cycle of his mature poetry, plus use in his novel War in Heaven, and as the subject of some nonfiction writing

    C. S. Lewis — the Matter of Logres becomes central for Lewis’s science fiction trilogy, though this is not obvious at first; the chivalric world more generally is basic for the Narnian books; there’s also Lewis’s “Lancelot” poem (which begins “When the year dies in preparation for the birth”), etc.

    J. R. R. Tolkien — we have had to reconsider its importance now that The Fall of Arthur is before us — but wasn’t this largely a “sport” in Tolkien’s imaginative work? Of course there’sthe general importance of chivalry in his work…

    Owen Barfield — this could be a peculiar discussion; the Grail is important, as I understand, in some anthroposophic activity, and that would matter to Barfield, but otherwise is the Matter of Logres important to him?

    Dale Nelson

    Like

    • This has been a good discussion Dale and David. Dale, do you think you have something here for a speculative post about how to read “behind” the Arthurian mental bookshelf of the Inklings?

      Like

      • dalejamesnelson says:

        Something like that might develop as these discussions continue. Right now possibilities are popping up everywhere, and I am having to resist the temptation to buy several books to add to my emotionally-burdensome backlog.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Louise New says:

    Other than Amazon, are there any other web sites I can order “The Inklings & King Arthur” book?

    Like

  6. Reblogged this on Wisdom from The Lord of the Rings and commented:
    Dear friends,
    Here at the beginning of a new year a book has been published of considerable importance. A year in the he court of King Arthur was shaped by the great feasts of the liturgical year, Christmas, Easter and Pentecost among the highest of them. At such times the court would not sit to eat until a sign from heaven had been granted to them that they could do so. In the middle years of the 20th century the Inklings showed us that the miraculous pervades the very nature of things in our day just as it did for Camelot. Could I then encourage you in the midst of the Christmas feast (Twelfth Night is on Friday January 5th and followed by the Feast of the Epiphany on Saturday) to expect the wondrous in this dark time of the year (northern hemisphere!). Read this post from Brenton Dickieson and buy the book. It will deepen the way in which you read The Inklings and it will make the world strange again but more wonderful yet.

    Liked by 1 person

    • dalejamesnelson says:

      Stephen, thanks for mentioning the importance of the Church calendar for Malory’s Morte. That’s a topic worth discussion here by itself.

      DN

      Liked by 2 people

      • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

        A good point – which also gets me wondering if this is something in which Williams is deliberately following Malory, at least in part, with his great Feast and other liturgical-year references in his Arthurian poetry. (‘Son of Lancelot’ springs to mind particularly.)

        Like

        • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

          A very kind Canon with whom I had been discussing my sadly insufficiently informed love of liturgy gave me a Dutch translation of the Roman Breviary for Christmas, and reading the Office for the Feast of the Holy Innocents, I was struck by the wintry imagery of one of the sermon excerpts included, which got me wondering both if this may have contributed to Charles Williams’s distinctive characterization of King Cradlemas in ‘The Calling of Arthur’, where Merlin tells Arthur:

          The waste of snow covers the waste of thorn;
          on the waste of hovels snow falls from a dreary sky;
          mallet and scythe are silent; the children die.
          King Cradlemas fears that the winter is hard for the poor.

          and also whether it may have contributed to Lewis’s development of the White Witch’s making it “always winter and never Christmas”.

          Like

    • Thanks so much, Stephen. That’s an approach I wouldn’t have thought of!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I just ordered my copy. I think Amazon are sending it by stagecoach across the USA and clipper across the Atlantic. I can’t wait to receive it.

    Like

  8. Mary says:

    This is so exciting! Thank you for sharing this wonderful news! I need to save up my money to buy it, but I will keep this post in my email so I may remember to. And yes, I shall surely review it in my blog. I’m currently doing studies on C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien right now. 😀

    Like

  9. joe says:

    Is there a TOC available anywhere?

    Like

  10. Pingback: Inklings and Arthur Series Introduction by David Llewellyn Dodds | A Pilgrim in Narnia

  11. Pingback: The Inklings and Arthur Series Index | A Pilgrim in Narnia

  12. Pingback: The Inklings and King Arthur: Selfies and News | A Pilgrim in Narnia

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