Two years after his Arthurian novel, That Hideous Strength, was published, and a year before he was discussing Arthur’s multiple “disqualifications” to be a “hero” with Dorothy L. Sayers, Lewis did not allow the complexities of his thoughts about King Arthur to prevent him heartily recommending to a young poet friend that he put Arthur at the heart of a new epic. Dale Nelson, whose acquaintance I happily made thanks to this blog, tells us about it in a way that will probably send the second-hand sales of this work I had never heard of before sky-rocketing.
David Llewellyn Dodds, Guest Editor
Did you ever daydream about taking time to live away from modern light, traffic, and noise, like a medieval monk?
Martyn Skinner (1906-1993) was, with Alan Griffiths and Hugh Waterman, one of three young Englishmen who, in 1930, undertook the fascinating experiment in quasi-medieval living in a Cotswold cottage that Griffiths describes in his early autobiography, The Golden String (1954/1980). They wanted to live, as much as possible, without anything derived from the Industrial Revolution. The austerities were so severe that, when Griffiths really did become a monk (Father Bede), he found the relatively rich monastic diet difficult to adjust to!
Griffiths had been C. S. Lewis’s pupil at Oxford, and I suppose it was through him that Lewis became acquainted with Skinner. When Lewis heard about the Cotswold plan, he was intrigued; look up his memorable letter of 15 June 1930 to Arthur Greeves. In time, Skinner became an Ipsden, south Oxfordshire, farmer, growing award-winning barley for the making of beer. His health kept him out of active war service.
By 1942, Lewis was writing to “Dear Skinner” with appreciation of his “really good” poetry. On 5 November 1947, Lewis suggested a topic to Skinner:
“Why not the long foretold return of Arthur to modern England? Plenty of room for your satiric bent and for as much fantasy as you want. …If you’ll write the verse I’ll provide the Argument!”
– that is, Lewis would suggest either the polemical case to be made or the basic plot of the story, or both.
Lewis had made a brilliant suggestion. Skinner went ahead with the project. Three parts of The Return of Arthur: A Poem of the Future appeared in 1951, 1955, and 1959, and were gathered as one volume in 1966, with additional material (likely not seen by Lewis). The Return was Skinner’s
“grandest work, for which he had to devise or adopt a metrical scheme which could be adjusted at need to convey gripping narrative, evocative description (some of his finest passages portray the beauty of the English countryside), comic strip journalism or the profoundest spiritual insights while retaining the continuity of the whole. The triumphant result places him among the truly great poets of the English tradition and language” (Roger Ellis’s obituary of Skinner, published 12 Nov. 1993 in The Independent).
C.S. Lewis read at least portions of The Return in manuscript or typescript and sent Skinner words of praise or of disapproval. Read Return Part One and be struck by how very Lewisian it is. I saw obvious parallels with Lewis’s “De Descriptione Temporum,” The Abolition of Man, That Hideous Strength, and The Screwtape Letters.
Picking up the haunting line “on the mere the wailing died away” from Tennyson’s “Morte d’Arthur,” Skinner begins his story by recalling that Arthur was taken to Avalon. Now we learn that he was drawn out of his sojourn there when Merlin came to reveal to the king what has happened on earth in the ensuing millennium and a half – for the great crisis is upon us; faith has almost vanished, sound institutions are suppressed, and the very form of human beings is tampered with by genetic experimentation. Yet one often smiles or chuckles when reading the poem.
The magician himself, you will recall, had succumbed to the wiles of the “harlot” Vivien and been imprisoned under a stone, but we learn that he remained conscious of human events, unlike Arthur in bliss. In heaven, an angelic council determines to set Merlin free, so that he can bring Arthur up to speed about conditions on earth before his return there. An efficient method turns out to be for the magician to escort the king on a trip down to hell – a journey often made by epic heroes, but this time with the use of infernal escalator — there to see a boastful propaganda movie. While the assembled devils roar with delight over the footage of hell’s victories on earth – shabby housing covering the countryside and obliterating the traditional villages; bombs; concentration camps; mutilated faces – Arthur is nauseated.
The devils are obviously colleagues of Screwtape. Hell is a technocratic corporation presided over by a Stalinesque Satan and his toadying advisors. Solzhenitsyn’s anecdote about Soviet functionaries, applauding an apparatchik’s call for a tribute to Comrade Stalin interminably because no one had the nerve to be the first to stop, will come to mind as the devils keep tapping the electronic devices that register their admiration of the fallen archangelic Leader.
In Part Two, the focus is on farmer George Alban, his beautiful wife Mary, and their boarder, the poet Leo Pippin. The Albans have two daughters and two sons, and George neglects them and his wife when he is recruited by King Arthur, along with a couple of dozen other men, to form the nucleus of a resistance effort against servile-state Britain. Arthur gives them lectures at the Grange, which are not recited in Skinner’s poem.
The year is 1999, and the Third World War is over. Britain is a combination of high-tech surveillance-based collectivism and agrarian culture. As in many pages of Sir Thomas Malory, in this part we see very little of Arthur. Merlin appears in time to thwart the sadistic “neo-feudal boss” Karl Kremlin Hengist, who lusts after Mary, by causing the sheep to swarm on him. One is reminded of Merlin maddening the N.I.C.E. animals in That Hideous Strength. George’s hero-worship of the king reminded me of the scene in Lewis’s novel in which Ransom snaps Jane Studdock out of the captivated state she is beginning to succumb to in the presence of the Pendragon.
Readers will be reminded also of Sir Edmund Spenser’s great poem. In Skinner’s narrative, the witchlike Morgana Marsh spies on Mary and Leo, who have been walking together, discussing poetry, and visiting a cave above the sea, and concocts a film that appears to show them making love. Intimidating, sex-blended government-enforcer Martha Proctor compels George to watch the film, and he is fooled by it. The narrator points out a parallel with the episode, early in the Faerie Queene, in which St. George is tricked by an illusion, created by Archimago’s sprites, into believing that Una is unfaithful to him. Taking George home with her, Morgana, with the help of an aphrodisiac, seduces him like a late-20th-century Duessa.
Like Lewis’s Mark Studdock when he begins to be initiated into the N.I.C.E., George enjoys the sense of “moving near the centre, not the rim” of Morgana’s group. The Spenserian atmosphere continues when the beguiled George attends a Masque of Progress, like the grotesque and hilarious Pageant of the Seven Sins in Lucifera’s palace (Faerie Queene Book 1). Here, the fuddled farmer watches the parade of “Merits”: in order, Enlightenment, Hygiene, Speed, Plenty (for man shall “live by bread alone”), World Peace, Leisure, and (played by Morgana) Luxury. Part Two of The Return ends with Morgana’s false beauty exposed by Merlin’s power, and the masque collapsing in disorder; but – now just past the book’s halfway point — where’s George?
Part Three describes several conversions: of Mary, in Arthur’s sovereign presence; of George in a slave-labor camp, where he meets faithful Father Bennet; and of Leo, who beholds a vision of an English parish church celebrating Christmas, with light, carved Nativity, music. Leo’s vision contrasts with the crude reality of advertisements projected on the night sky, for this collectivist Newtopian world is also consumerist. Even Hengist undergoes conversion, thanks to the overwhelming beauty of the Grail as light shines through stained glass.
Arthur, after the anguish of Guinevere’s betrayal and the destruction of the Round Table, had mistrusted women, but Mary’s Joan of Arc-like presence restores him, and quickens the chivalric ideal. Adventures occur that reminded me of the 1960s Man From U.N.C.L.E. television series. The poem as it concludes is less Lewisian than it was at the start. Skinner had become interested in Jung and in Renée Haynes’ book on ESP, The Hidden Springs (1961), and suggests that Arthur’s victory over the N.I.C.E.-like Newtopians owes something to the awakened “racial memory” of the English people. In 1959, reading material that would be included in 1966’s Part Three, Lewis objected to Skinner that King Arthur doesn’t come across as someone who had sojourned in Avalon and that Merlin doesn’t have the mystique of someone whose father was an aerial spirit. Skinner felt that what Lewis wanted was beyond his powers.
Skinner’s versification is lively and his diction witty. The traditional belief was that a poet should be a learned person, with a mind stocked with literature, philosophy, history, and knowledge of current events. This learning is not acquired for the sake of showing off (though that too might have its place!), but because a major poem is the work of a capacious memory and a unifying imagination. The Return deploys everything from (uncharacteristically!) an obscene bit of untranslated Horatian Latin, to The Song of Roland, to folklore about fern-seed, to a comparison of Mary Alban with Velazquez’s Rokeby Venus, to an allusion to the atrocious treatment of Polish people by Russian forces, as documented in The Dark Side of the Moon. (This 1947 book was introduced by T. S. Eliot, and in it, years before Solzhenitsyn, informed readers about Paragraph 58 of the Soviet penal code, under which hundreds of thousands of human beings were sent to miserable fates in the Gulag.)
John Betjeman contributed the blurb for Skinner’s 1966 dust jacket:
“This is a modern epic, easy to read and an amazing piece of sustained, imaginative writing. There are moments of beautiful description and of pathos as well as of satiric humour.”
Skinner also wrote the three volumes of Letters to Malaya, in Popean couplets, for which he won the Hawthornden Prize (1943) and the Heinemann Award (1947). I wrote about Letters in CSL: The Bulletin of the New York C. S. Lewis Society 35:2 (Whole Number 400) (March-April 2004): 16-17. Along with these books and The Return of Arthur, Skinner wrote Two Colloquies and Old Rectory.
Dale Nelson is (soon: was) Associate Professor of English at Mayville State University in North Dakota. His collection Lady Stanhope’s Manuscript and Other Stories was published in Fall 2017 under Douglas Anderson’s Nodens Books imprint. Nelson is a columnist for CSL: The Bulletin of the New York C. S. Lewis Society and the Tolkienian newsletter Beyond Bree.
Compliments all round on the illustrations, here, too! I’ve never seen that Golden String dust jacket, or so youthful a photo of Bede Griffiths, and how well it and the Eric Kennington portrait of Martyn Skinner go together in pose and placement! And the family lambs are extra delightful coming after the description of Merlin causing the sheep to swarm!
And there is a fascinating line running through Lewis’s suggestion of the scope for variety, Ellis’s summary of the success of that, and the vivid examples in your summary, including the deliberate Spenserian references, for the breadth and varied content remind me of The Faerie Queene – and Narnia. You do leave us longing for better acquaintance!
Jolly as well to think, with the various Betjeman-Lewis tensions, of their mutual appreciation of The Return of King Arthur.
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Speaking of The Golden String — old-time fans of Lewis, Tolkien, and Williams might remember the days when it was one of a very few books out there with glimpses of the Inklings’ Oxford — at least I think there’s a glimpse there, but it’s a while since I reread it. There was John Wain’s Sprightly Running (certainly a classic picture of the Inklings, and also with a memorable portrait of an independent scholar, Meyerstein), and, of course, there was Surprised by Joy. And there wasn’t a whole lot more! We have learned a lot since then. My favorite chapter in The Golden String must be the one about the experiment in medieval living of Griffiths, Skinner, and Hugh Waterman.
It was your initial submission, Dale, that led me to get it from the library. We actually had it! Our university library has a collection of Lewis-related materials that was donated by some amateur and interesting researchers–including a student of Lewis’s and a couple friends of Lindskoog’s. I look forward to reading this.
It is pleasant to think Lewis, in That Hideous Strength, varies the name of one of the first baleful pagan Saxon intruders into Britain in early sources (such as Nennius) into the surname of the admirable Hingest, while Skinner gives the sadistic “neo-feudal boss” his unaltered name as surname, Hengist, adding (shades of some of Huxley’s names in Brave New World) Karl Kremlin as his first and middle names – and then allows him to undergo conversion, so that both give an implicit echo of the reconciliation of the British and English in the course of the Christian history of the Island.
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C. S. Lewis took an active interest in The Return of Arthur as the Parts were being written and published prior to the 1966 one-volume edition. He singled out many specific passages for praise or blame. Here are excerpts that are more general:
11 June 1951: [Of the first part of The Return of Arthur:] “I am longing to read the rest. I shd. think you are enjoying yourself. It is sickening to think how little chance of a fair hearing you have….But all good luck. Finish the poem whatever they don’t say. Will the tide ever turn?”
29 Apr 1954: “I don’t know much about publishers. The one most likely to take risks over what they think a good work is Allen & Unwin: witness their heroic venture of publishing Tolkien’s romance in 3 volumes at about £1 each. The O. U. P. will take no risks.”
27 Feb. 1955: “I’ve romped thro’ it with unflagging interest; a good, stiff sea-breeze of a poem which fills the lungs and makes one hold one’s hat on. …I myself don’t detect the borrowings from [That Hideous Strength] which your wife speaks of.”
31 Dec. 1959: “The [Byron’s] Don Juan element in your style works admirably for your own satiric commitments and also for dialogue between vulgar and depraved characters. And there is a second style (your own) into which you can rise at any moment; usually for ethical gnomae or descriptions of nature (your sense of natural lighting is your great gift).”
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Thank you for these vivid snapshots along the way!
I remember being bowled over by the style of Don Juan when I first read it (having enjoyed other Byron poems but never encountered anything like this in ’em!) – though I’ve somehow still never read ‘the whole thing’.
I wonder if there are sufficient (how many would that be?) examples of near-future stories with an Arthurian theme, as to justify one saying that this must be considered a subgenre of science fiction or fantasy? Obviously That Hideous Strength and The Return of Arthur; and I have a nagging feeling that there are others.
By the way, Martyn Skinner’s last poem, Old Rectory — Old Rectory is the name of a person — has a futuristic setting, too.
I have a copy, very recently received and not yet read.
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How long has “Near Future” been a buzz term in SF? It has (in my mind) arisen lately as a term of clarification, but it is a method used since at least Morris.
Interesting question! A lot of those ‘coming great war’ books since Chesney’s The Battle of Dorking: Reminiscences of a Volunteer (1871) are ‘Near Future’ in fact. Is Masefield’s ‘Simkin, Tomkin and Jack’ (1931) near-future, or alternate present Arthurian SF?
Oh, good question.
I think that the “near future” has always been there as a futuristic option. That Hideous Strength is near future. But the term is new to me (though entirely intuitive).
I don’t yet have a sense of Martyn Skinner as a conversationalist. As a letter-writer, though, he comes across as someone who would have made a good addition to the Inklings. The letters I’m referring to are those published, with the letters of novelist R. C. Hutchinson, in Two Men of Letters, edited by Rupert Hart-Davis. (Lewis’s appreciation of Hutchinson’s novels is on record, by the way. From what I have learned about them, none is a fantasy; they are all novels rooted in particular times and places, ranging from London to Siberia.)
I hope that Lewisians will take CSL’s enthusiasm to heart and seek out The Return of Arthur. Alas, Skinner himself had to subsidize the one-volume complete edition. John Betjeman had tried to interest publishers, without success. “Eventually,” Skinner wrote to Hutchinson, 28 April 1965), “my own publisher [Chapman and Hall] agreed to publish at my expense, and it will be a costly outlay with very little chance of getting much back. It will be a 600-page volume and sell at 45/-.”
Lewis didn’t live to see the one-volume edition. I wonder if he wouldn’t have wanted to review it, had he lived. He seems to have owned all of Skinner’s books of poetry except the first, Sir Elfadore and Mabyna, about which I’ll have something to say here at A Pilgrim in Narnia before long. I liked that first book of Skinner’s verse — but I’m sure Skinner was right in saying that The Return of Arthur was his life’s work.
45 shillings in 1966 – two guineas and three shillings – two pounds and five shillings…hmm. When I was first in Great Britain in 1970, it was the delightful case that one U.S. cent equalled one British penny (some of the lovely great things still had Queen Victoria’s profile on them!), so I could easily see what things cost – like a lovely, sturdy authorized paperback of The Return of Sherlock Holmes for 3/6 = $0.42! How I wish I’d run into The Return of Arthur, too – a nice fat hardback for $5.16! The best second-hand buys a quick UK check now finds are a bit more than that, at the current exchange rate – and then there’s costs… Still, hmm, inflation, etc. over 52 years… maybe the lower-end prices are bargains! (Not the 998.98 or even 200.00 pound copies, though – other prices I encountered!)
David, further to your musings on the cost of The Return of Arthur in 1966 — “In 1966, aged 15, when I was earning £6 10s 6d a week in my first job, a 45 rpm single cost about 6s 8d, and an LP £1 12s 6d. To buy the Beatles LP Revolver therefore cost me more or less a quarter of my wages.” — Alan Payling in The Guardian 16 Nov. 2016.
I’m getting the sense that the cost of a copy of The Return of Arthur might have been roughly the same as the cost of one new copy of Revolver for yourself and one for a friend, and you’d have little bit left over after buying them.
Now I’m wondering how much the individual volumes of English editions of The Lord of the Rings cost in 1966. Have I seen that they were 45/- each? Can someone help us with this? They were fairly expensive, what with a tipped-in map and all.
I don’t know if that helps anyone to put the cost of a new copy of The Return of Arthur into perspective.
If you scroll down here
you can see that The Return of the King, when first published, cost 21 shillings, but that was over ten years before The Return of Arthur and, so, isn’t very helpful.
Nancy Martsch, editor of the excellent monthly newsletter Beyond Bree, reported that the Allen and Unwin hardcover 1966 2nd edition of The Lord of the Rings cost 25 shillings per volume. At 45 shillings, the one-volume edition of The Return of Arthur would have looked pricey to some prospective purchasers — supposing they were aware of it. Of course, Skinner and his publisher couldn’t anticipate a hundredth of Tolkien’s sales. I don’t know if The Return of Arthur was advertised beyond, say, the publisher’s catalogue.
Sales – and prices – of long poems might be an interesting point of comparison, including, say, the great, difficult, fascinating Arthurian (among other things) work by David Jones, The Anathemata (Faber, 1952) and Basil Bunting’s Briggflatts – also published in 1966 (Fulcrum Press), as well as reprints of Eliot’s The Four Quartets, but also of poems by the Poet Laureate, John Masefield – the latter two of whom bring us to verse-dramas as another sort of long poems as well, and Christopher Fry – I have a 1951 “Sixth Impression” of his Arthurian Thor, with Angels (OUP) which cost 6 shillings at the time for 54 pages of text.
Williams two Arthurian volumes, Taliessin through Logres and The Region of the Summer Stars, were reprinted for the first time together in one volume in this period (OUP,1954) – and that edition indeed reprinted anew (1960). But I don’t know (or recall?) what they cost…
I’m not sure how early I bought my first LP – Switched-On Bach (1968) – but I seem to remember LPs being about $4.00 in the early 1970s, with labels and lines like Nonesuch, Vox Turnabout, and Angel Seraphim being delightfully less expensive. But, waiting for the first tic, and dreading worse to come… a good hardback would be at least a more durable purchase in most circumstances… Not that one would want to choose either to the exclusion of the other! (Though I mostly bought paperbacks…)
In 1970, £1 12s 6d would have been $3.66, so in the same neighbo(u)rhood…
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The question of a new reprint arises — a university press, or Apocryphile or Winged Lion, maybe? Most people who read a lot, don’t, I suppose, read a lot of poetry, so there’d be that factor, and then Martyn Skinner is virtually unknown. However, there may be signs of hope. Ruth Pitter was, I assume, hardly known her in the States, and yet Kent State UP published her biography, and the U of Delaware Press her letters, in the past few years — and a critical edition of her poems is due out within a few weeks. Pitter, like Skinner, worked within the tradition of English poetry prior to Eliot, Auden, and the poets who have come afterwards, both of them writing accessible poetry out of the permanent things.
A reissue of The Return of Arthur might benefit from some added material about the man and his connections with C. S. Lewis and with people who were not Inklings but who belong to that large group of “almost-Inklings” such as Bede Griffiths. Letters by Skinner to R. C. Hutchinson have been published; I wonder what other letters by him might survive, and offer a trove that an editor could draw upon for a revival of The Return.
But if something like this ever happens, it will probably be years in the future, and would need to be preceded by a number of people getting hold of Skinner’s work and liking it, and showing that there would be justification for a new publishing venture, even if “only” in the print-on-demand milieu. Similarly, as there is no point in waiting to investigate The Return till it is back in print, there is no point waiting for it to enter the public domain and become available as a free download, since it was under copyright as recently as the mid-1960s. If you are interested in The Return of Arthur, you will almost certainly have to get it from a library or from a used book dealer.
Wipf & Stock do a lot of reprints. You may have a case for a good proposal given the interest renewal in Inklings context.
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Apocryphile, Winged Lion, or Wipf & Stock are all great options, and I can totally see one of the them jumping on this opportunity! Do give it a try!
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I wonder what connection Skinner maintained with Bede Griffiths who had a powerful, and good, effect upon people throughout his life. I once met a retired senior member of the British military at a conference held at Mount St Bernard Abbey in central England. He told me how he had once been recovering from a serious illness in hospital and encountered a particularly unpleasant nurse there. Until… one day he was reading a book by Bede Griffiths in his hospital bed as this nurse passed by. She glanced down at him and suddenly stood, stock still, and then sat down at the end of the bed. She began to tell of how, as a young woman, she had spent time at Bede Griffiths’ Christian Ashram in India, how deeply she had been affected by the experience and how she had almost forgotten it over the years. From that time on she would stop to talk whenever possible. I wonder where the transformation took her.
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My impression is that Griffiths and Skinner continued to be friends. By the way, those of you with access to libraries at Oxford, Cambridge, or Exeter might be able to see a brief essay that Griffith wrote, I think in the 1970s, on Skinner’s poetry. It was published by the Finzi Book Room at the University of Reading. They don’t seem to own a copy! I haven’t been able to get my hands on it.
Here is a letter from Griffiths to Skinner:
Thank you very much indeed for your letter. I assure you that the mere sight of your handwriting on the envelope was a pleasure, and I should not have minded if the letter had contained no more than an expression of your good wishes: I should have been content. I think monastic life must increase one’s capacity for friendship: at any rate I feel very thankful that ours has survived my somewhat stormy passage of late years, and I trust that it will never now be broken, Religion can play the devil at destroying human relationships, and in some sense I suppose it is inevitable – it is one aspect of the gospel which comes out in the words, I came not to bring peace but a sword. But still I feel more and more now that there is a fundamental religion of the ‘heart’ – and that is of the will and affections – which unite us with one another, and with all our brethren in the human race, and which is deeper than any outward form of religion.
It is in this sense that we were right in calling Shakespeare, Shelley, Keats etc ‘religious’, and I am certain that it is by this – the fundamental disposition of the will to good or evil – that we shall all be judged at the last day: and then doubtless there will be many who thought themselves first who will be last, and the last will be first. As for the outward form of religion, this obviously depends so much on circumstances that it is practically impossible for one man to judge another – apart from the fact that we are expressly commanded not to do so. Obviously there are millions of souls whose highest good is to be a devout Moslem, Buddhist or Hindu and who can know no other religion. As for me I find I love the church more and more because I find in her the fulfilment of all true religion. All I had gleaned from the Buddha and the Bhagavad Gita, and Lao Tzu and Marcus Aurelius I find fulfilled now, and above all, all I had ever learnt of Christ and the Gospel becomes completed in the fullness of truth which is for me the beginning and the end of life.
So much for myself, but though of course I long for others to share my faith, I realise that God doesn’t lead us all in the same way and it is no good expecting it. You and I share a common faith at heart, and perhaps in time, if not in this world then in the next, we shall come to share the whole truth together, but it is in God’s hands and it is no use trying to force Him. (No use at all!). This is by way of agreement with you that it is better for us not to discuss ‘religion’; as you say it is a matter of ‘inspired conviction’ (if you had read St Thomas you could not have expressed it more accurately and he describes faith as a light infused in the mind – lumen infusum). We have sufficient to agree upon in common, and for the rest I am willing to wait upon grace: only if my enthusiasm sometimes gets the better of me, you will have to forgive me.
I don’t expect that you have heard that my mother died last May. My brother Laurence rang me up one night just as I was getting into bed (9.30) and said that she had had a serious accident and had been taken to Yeovil hospital. I went off immediately by train to Bristol – it was Coronation night so there was a crowd about – and then took a taxi to Yeovil. I found mother lying unconscious – she had been thrown out of the back of the car which Laurence was driving – a frightful smash, five injured in all. It was extremely peaceful by the bedside: I just knelt down and said the Rosary and put her life in Our Lady’s hands, and I felt perfectly calm and confident. She was breathing hard then and all through the following day, but the next evening at about 10 o’clock, they rang us up at the hotel where I stayed with my father and Laurence to say that there was a change for the worse, and when we reached the hospital she was dead. It was just such a death as she would have wished, without any pain or anxiety. I scarcely felt any shock. The sense that the life of the body was over with all its trials and suffering, and the life of the soul beginning to last for ever, was overwhelming. It has remained with me ever since: I pray for her just the same, and in a sense I feel more united to her now. It was a great blow to her my becoming a Catholic, and though she tried not to show it, it was inevitably a division between us. Now I feel that she understands and all is well. I don’t expect Hugh has heard of this: will you let him know, if you are writing? I shall probably not be writing to him for some time.
You will be amused to hear that I have written an account of my conversion from the time I left school, through Eastington and Wontley to my coming here, which is to appear in Pax. I will send you a copy when it comes out. I am afraid you and Hugh don’t figure very brilliantly, but I thought it best to avoid all personalities, so you just come in as my friends. I am due for my solemn profession in December, and shall be voted for by the community in a few weeks time. If I get turned out, I hope you will offer me a place of refuge. The thought of it, I confess, appals me. I love this place so much, that I simply do not know how I could live outside. I love every moment of the day, every stick and stone here, and every soul in the community more than words can tell. And yet I find the life very hard in many ways, and I have a sense of the awful tragedy of life which almost overwhelms me. But that is the mystery of the Cross, and we shall not understand till we get to heaven.
Yours ever affectionately, D Bede
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Many thanks for this!
Bede Griffiths’s saying, “it was Coronation night” got me asking, how did that go, exactly? Turning to Wikipedia, I find, “George VI’s coronation at Westminster Abbey took place on 12 May 1937, the date previously intended for Edward’s coronation.”
I see contributions by Masefield are finely presented online:
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Speaking of the Coronation, Grevel Lindop, in his biography (pp. 270-71) reports that Williams also wrote a poem, ‘The King’s Crowning, 12th May, 1937’ – published in the St Pancras People’s Theatre Magazine, and summarizes his “setting out a view of the monarch’s function. He is to join ‘in alliance’ with the commons, and so defeat ‘tyrants and tricksters’; to bring ‘Mercy and Justice’, because ‘all else is trapped by gold, / all but the King’s grace that was popular of old.'” This seems to me, among other things, very Chestertonian from the sound of it. In the earlier Arthurian cycle, Williams had devoted one poem to the viewpoint of the commons, and common soldiers. By the time of the Coronation, he was so far into the transformation of his style, that only a couple recast poems (so to call them) would still be included in what became a new cycle and this ‘Song’ was not among them. While the “people” are vividly presented by Merlin in ‘The Calling of Arthur’ and by implication in the well-ordered and -directed triumphant army of the following poem, ‘Mount Badon’, their voice is not heard in the same way. (Interestingly, by this point, Williams had read David Jones’s great ‘In Parenthesis’, mixing, among other things, the Arthurian and the perspectives of common soldiers in the Great War, in proof. It went on to win the Hawthornden Prize, the year after Ruth Pitter’s A Trophy of Arms and six years before Martyn Skinner’s Letters to Malaya.)
It is interesting to compare Martyn Skinner’s Arthur, as described here, doing something like realizing Williams’s thoughts about the newly-crowned George VI: calling the farmer, George Alban, “along with a couple of dozen other men, to form the nucleus of a resistance effort against servile-state Britain” and giving “them lectures at the Grange”.
By the time this was published, the world had seen how well George VI (with Queen Elizabeth and the Princesses, especially Elizabeth) had done together with the ‘commons’ in the Second World War. And it suddenly occurs to me that that very success may also be an implicit note in Ransom’s observations to Merlin about the powerlessness of the King faced with NICE, deepening the gravity of the imagined form of the near-future threat for those with George VI in the war in mind.
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I have learned a little about the short essay that Bede Griffiths wrote about Martyn Skinner’s poetry, from a university librarian who has access to it but can’t copy it. She writes, “There is no mention of Sir Elfadore and Mabyna, but there is a short paragraph that mentions The Return of Arthur and the accuracy of Skinner’s picture of scientific and technological civilisation.”
Sir Elfadore and Mabyna was Skinner’s first book, I believe, and is the subject of an upcoming piece here at A Pilgrim in Narnia. Griffiths’ knowledge of Skinner’s Return of Arthur is evidence (and not the only evidence) that he and Skinner remained friends for decades after the period described in The Golden String. Thank you, Stephen for the anecdote you mentioned about the nurse.
I reviewed Shirley du Boulay’s biography of Griffiths for Touchstone many years ago. The review used to be available online, I think, but now seems to be behind a paywall; however, it remains my property, so perhaps I could share it here. Griffiths is an interesting person, but eventually, as I recall, he did not regard Christian theology and sexual morality as definitive, becoming somewhat relativistic and syncretistic.
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Reblogged this on Wisdom from The Lord of the Rings and commented:
As regular readers of my blog will know I am reblogging posts from Brenton Dickieson’s excellent blog on C.S Lewis and matters related to the Inklings, A Pilgrim in Narnia. These posts have been requested to help promote the recent publication of The Inklings and King Arthur, a book that I am currently reading and know will be a resource for years to come.
This week’s post is by Dale Nelson and is about Martin Skinner’s long poem, The Return of Arthur. As you will see it is a trenchant critique of contemporary society that remains fascinatingly contemporary despite being written in the 1950s.
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By the way, I’ve been reading Renee Haynes’s psi book, The Hidden Springs, which Skinner cites several times. (The Return of Arthur contains interesting notes by the author — something I should have mentioned. He doesn’t distract you with superscript numbers in the text of the poem itself, but gives canto, stanza, and line references with each note.)
Anyway, it turns out she was a personal acquaintance of Charles Williams. As David Llewellyn Dodds pointed out to me, Haynes was a contributor to the same book series for which CW wrote He Came Down from Heaven:
It seems Renee Haynes and CW met at a social gathering related to the series. One of the CW Society Newsletters has a several-page piece by her about Williams.
Renee Haynes also cites CSL’s books several times in The Hidden Springs.
Here’s her talk:
Click to access 41%20SPRING%201986.pdf
Many thanks, David, for this link. I looked for it & didn’t find it!
Charles Williams’s He Came Down from Heaven was the fifth book in a series called “I Believe: A Series of Personal Statements” by Heinemann, preceded by
What I Believe by J. D. Beresford
Problems Of Religion by Gerald Bullett
Pan, Caesar, And God by Renee Haynes
And He Shall Come Again by Kenneth Ingram
according to the link posted above.
A question: Would there be interested here at A Pilgrim in Narnia or at The Oddest Inkling in a series of posts (guest posts, I suppose) on the I Believe series? Sørina Higgins’s report on He Came Down from Heaven could be a model for what these posts could look like. I hereby volunteer to do a piece on Renee Haynes’s book, if so. Brenotn and Sørina can settle it between them as to which blog should host the series, if series there’s to be. (“Ugh! You take it!” “No way! You take it!”)
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An attractive idea – wherever it appeared – but a big question would be, how would one obtain copies, since (as I commented at Sørina’s post, back in the day), none of the other contributors, or the series editor, Richard Ellis Roberts, are simply out of copyright yet.
I have not (yet) checked once again which of the series I can find online – beyond searching the Internet Archive for Kenneth Ingram, just now – and wondering if The Changing Order (1925), Years of Crisis (1946) are by the same K.I.: I take it that The Coming Civilization (1935) is… assuming I correctly identified him, back then! (And – the only Wikipedia result I could find for K.I. – what of Basil Jellicoe (1936) – and, tangentially, did any of the Inklings, or Dorothy L. Sayers or Chesterton know Jellicoe?)
Some readers of A Pilgrim in Narnia and The Oddest Inkling probably have access to good interlibrary loan services. The Beresford one, for example, is owned by several US libraries. Perhaps one of them would loan it.
Indeed, I’m counting on ILL for the Renee Haynes book, right now. It looks like there’s one copy for sale through abebooks.com, at around $30.
There are copies of The Return of Arthur (1966) available at the same site, by the way, for about what you’d pay for a new hardcover book now! To those interested — remember that you want that 1966 edition to get the whole poem in one book.
I’ve wondered if Apocryphile or Winged Lion might be interested in a reprint. Does anyone have other suggestions?
One could try Boydell & Brewer, but it looks like the Arthurian Poets series rather ground to a halt after my Masefield volume, alas… for whatever reason.
To the good suggestion of looking into available interlibrary loan services, I add it now occurs to me that of course UK reader-residents with access to one of the great copyright libraries (which have the right of refusal of a copy of any book commercially published in the UK) would be well placed to have a look at these volumes.
So, David and everyone, are there three people who’d be able to get hold of one each of these books and write them up?
What I Believe by J. D. Beresford
Problems Of Religion by Gerald Bullett
And He Shall Come Again by Kenneth Ingram
Sørina Higgins has written up Charles Williams’s He Came Down from Heaven already and I’m willing to write up Renee Haynes’s Pan, Caesar, and God. Of course, we still need to know where such write-ups could appear! It does seem like a worthwhile project if there’s interest, probably intrinsically and also for the sake of grasping the context (the series) in which one of Charles Williams’s major theological works (and his first) appeared (CSL called it “a really great book”).
All our Interlibrary Loan(-like) attempts in the Netherlands have been unsuccessful… I don’t know if there might be some library I could somehow get access to, which happened to have a copy of any of them… so I am a very long-shot for anytime, soon, I fear, however interested in the results!
There might be interest on either of our blogs, Dale–but I simply couldn’t edit anything this season, and Sørina is probably in the same boat. I am woefully behind just on blog comments (which, btw, have become some of the best “material” in the series, with no disrespect to the original posts).
I’ve received an interlibrary loan copy of Renee Haynes’s Pan, Caesar and God contribution to the series, and am not sure now about reading this and writing it up. At a glance it seems to attempt to cover a great deal of territory on Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, anthropology, etc., without the author being, so far as I know, able to read any Asian language. It would probably be an interesting book from the point of view of the I Believe series to which Charles Williams contributed, but I wonder about intrinsic value.
That’s a great idea for a series, David! I think I should probably get back into regular Charles Williams blogging first (I plan to do so this summer), so that other content doesn’t swamp the blog. But do suggest it again sometime in the “near future” ;). Thanks!
In the essay above, I mention being reminded of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. TV series.
Now -this- will appeal to a certain faction of readers of the Pilgrim blog: I have just been reading a letter by R. C. Hutchinson to Skinner, after Skinner loaned him a typescript of the final cantos. Hutchinson wrote ( 2 August 1965), “Oh, my dear Martyn, I darkly suspect that… you are devouring with hungry eyes the adventures of Dr. Who”! But he adds appreciative words about Skinner’s ability to “render the quiet things in nature.”
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Speaking as someone who saw the very first episode of Dr Who which, of course, was on the day of the assassination of John F Kennedy and the death of C.S Lewis, I am interested.
By the way, my mother banned Dr Who after the very first episode because I had a nightmare that night. I was able to start watching it again after seeing the final episode of the first Dalek adventure at the home of my best friend, David Stratford. Thank you, David!
I saw that first episode thanks to a public library with a copy, but otherwise need to catch up further on William Hartnell as the Doctor. Wikipedia tells me that when R. C. Hutchinson wrote to Skinner, the second season had just finished including a visit to Rome (pre-Arthurian: Nero!), a visit to Jerusalem during the Third Crusade (Julian Glover as King Richard), and a visit to “the northeastern coast of England in late summer, 1066” – which introduced as “recurring villain the Meddling Monk”! (Lots to look forward to, insofar as not missing!) The learned Whovian could tell us how much Martyn Skinner’s Merlin and Arthur were, and were not, like Time Lords…
That’s an amusing idea, David — Merlin and Arthur with reference to Whovian Time Lords. Since most of the poem was published by 1959, in the unlikely event of “influence” it seems it probable would’ve been from the poet to the TV people. However influence t’other way for the last few cantos might be possible. I note from -Two Men of Letters: Correspondence Between R. C. Hutchinson, Novelist, and Martyn Skinner, Poet, 1957-1974-, that Martyn Skinner had a couple of sons, Benjamin (born 1950) and Daniel (born 1956) — who thus would’ve been of prime age to be attracted to the Dr. Who series, if it were the case that the family had a TV, which I don’t know.
But “influence” isn’t perhaps all that important; it’s interesting that Hutchinson, even perhaps with tongue in cheek, made that remark. In writing -The Return of Arthur-, Martyn Skinner said that the “real difficulty” of its writing was “combining an apparently negligent, unbuttoned and colloquial manner with the utmost economy and concision.” What he was aiming for required “the tightest of reins, and yet must appear to be easy negligence” (letter dated 23 July 1965).
By the way, to start a different hare, many people who visit Pilgrim will remember CSL praising Charles Williams’s ability to create interesting, living -good- characters. In a 1969 letter to Hutchinson, Skinner praises the novelist for this capacity, with specific reference to his newest book, Johanna at Daybreak. That book’s predecessor was called A Child Possessed, which won the one-thousand pound W. H. Smith Award about the same time that -The Return of Arthur- was published in its complete, one-volume edition.
Your saying “in the unlikely event of ‘influence’ it seems it probable would’ve been from the poet to the TV people” resonates with my recently wondering about a possible influence of or wink to Charles Williams’s Many Dimensions in Gareth Roberts’ Doctor Who: Shada, a novelization of a Douglas Adams Dr. Who story with an exceedingly complicated history (including lots of surviving drafts, etc.!). There is… Something important to the story which has some strikingly similar features to some of those of the Stone in Williams’s novel (and perhaps some Williams Grail-like features, too) – but I’m not widely and well enough read in science fiction and fantasy to know if it’s closer to Other Things in other works…
There are several Doctor Who episodes that show direct CSL influence — such as “The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe” — and of course the two-episode series “Magnum Opus” all about Charles Williams that involved my blog! Check out https://theoddestinkling.wordpress.com/tag/inspector-lewis/.
By the way, do you have a sense of ‘supernatural’ elements in Hutchinson’s fiction? A Child Possessed is not the only title which might suggest the possibility, to go by the list in his Wikipedia article (and without yet searching for, say, Amazon reviews of various of them).
David, I hope to read Hutchinson’s Testament within the next few months, as my first novel by him. My impression is that none of his novels deals with the “supernatural.” Here is something on A Child Possessed:
That sounds like something very well worth reading!
I have high hopes that Hutchinson will turn out to be, for me, an outstanding author discovery, as Sigrid Undset was for me in the early 2000s.
Indeed it does – thanks! Good to know he’s being reprinted!
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