“The Country Around Edgestow”: A Map from C.S. Lewis’ That Hideous Strength by Tim Kirk from Mythlore

Among the bulletin-board resources that I have pasted around my office, competing with lists and charts for visual space, is “The Country Around Edgestow.” This fantasy map was drawn by artist Tim Kirk for an early Mythlore article, “Arthurian & Cosmic Myth in That Hideous Strength” by Margaret Hannay (1970). I have confessed before that I have tried to work out some of the local (i.e., the ones on Earth) places in C.S. Lewis’ Ransom Cycle. I am really among the least likely of fools to succeed in this quest, not being either British or anywhere near the English spaces where Lewis has located the story. But in writing my article, “What is the Significance of Worc(h)ester in C.S. Lewis’ Ransom Cycle?,” I became intrigued by the possibilities of real places in C.S. Lewis’ mind that sit behind his fictional English towns and countrysides. I even spent a day hiking with Rev. Stephen Winter–the “Wisdom from the Lord of the Rings” blogger–hoping to feel Lewis’ real schoolboy environment of Malvern and environs behind Dr. Ransom’s earthly home base.

My visit was not conclusive, though it was an interesting one–and I had a brilliant weekend of hiking and visiting. I still would like, however, to continue to visit the hills and towns and colleges that form Lewis’ literary imagination.

One of Lewis’ key terran fictional places is “Edgestow,” the home of Bragdon Wood, Bracton College, and the literary centre of the events in That Hideous Strength. In my reading about Lewis and Arthurian literature, I happened upon Margaret Hannay’s piece, which included a map of “The Country Around Edgestow” by artist Tim Kirk. Mythlore has an elegant design today that heightens its peer-review status. Back in the day, though, it was like an avant-garde literary zine meets academic playground–a precursor to places like A Pilgrim in Narnia and one of the better products to come out of Inklings societies in the 1960s. If you have a chance to scan some old copies, you will see all manner of folk poetry, fan art, and editorial imagination.

One of these older art pieces is Tim Kirk’s “The Country Around Edgestow.” People who are better at seeing the three-dimensional from reading text may quibble, but as a reading tool, I have come to like this fairly detailed Edgestow map. With the help of Mythlore editor Janet Brennan Croft, Tim Kirk kindly gave me permission to share the map on A Pilgrim in Narnia. You can download a PDF of Hannay’s article with Kirk’s map in context here. And there is a clearer, zoom-able version of the map here. I hope this provides some dimension for the next time you read the Ransom books.

See Hannay, Margaret (1970) “Arthurian & Cosmic Myth in That Hideous Strength,” Mythlore: A Journal of J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Charles Williams, and Mythopoeic Literature: Vol. 2: No. 2 , Article 3.

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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36 Responses to “The Country Around Edgestow”: A Map from C.S. Lewis’ That Hideous Strength by Tim Kirk from Mythlore

  1. Ben says:

    Greetings! Thank you for sharing this delightful map of Edgestow — although it would be nice to include a post-apocalyptic one too! As I was looking at your other blog entries, I came across “A Cosmic Find in The Screwtape Letters,” dating from May 26, 2016. You mention finding C.S. Lewis’ original hand-written preface, and you share a portion of it. I’d deeply appreciate a complete copy of it, if possible. My book group is reading The Screwtape Letters, and I’d like to share this discovery with them. Thanks!

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  2. Jane Edmonds says:

    Definitely no “h” in Worcester, Brenton. Jane.

    On Tue, Feb 23, 2021 at 9:29 AM A Pilgrim in Narnia wrote:

    > Brenton Dickieson posted: “Among the bulletin-board resources that I have > pasted around my office, competing with lists and charts for visual space, > is “The Country Around Edgestow.” This fantasy map was drawn by artist Tim > Kirk for an early Mythlore article, “Arthurian & Cosmi” >

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  3. John Gough says:

    As usual, Brenton, your discussion is very good. I re-read “That Hideous Strength” about five years ago, and was not aware of spatial orientation in the novel, and this is something I have learned to pay attention to.
    In my working life I lectured in mathematics education. I had a special interest in the mathematical thinking that is needed to properly understand some books. This can include, for example, the reader’s need to conceptualize a family tree. (I felt this was absolutely essential for me to make, when I read Elfrida Vripont’s Quaker novel, “The Lark in the Morn”: when I read the sequel, I was delighted to find that Vripont actually included an official family tree!). Or the layout of the rooms of a house (This was crucial in understanding the fatal scene near the end of Rumer Godden’s Indian novel “The River”.)
    Or the spatial relations between places in the story — essentially, sketching a map.
    For example, Hope Mirlee’s post-World War I fantasy novel, “Lud-in-the-Mist” begins with a prose description of the location of Lud, a major town, on a river, with mountains to the west, and a mysterious fairyland beyond the mountains, … Reading this, I felt impelled to sketch a map to really SEE what I was reading.
    All of this leads me to ask whether careful re-reading of “That Hideous Strength” will reveal crucial sentences or paragraphs that support the visual details of the Edgestowe map: east-west, and north-south orientation; right and left indications of turning; upwards and downwards descriptions of travelling; turns in a road; distances from place to place.
    Of course it is possible to use an imaginatively constructed map to guide our spatial thinking as we read a story. But what I am looking for is a careful reading of the story to guide our making of the map that is described in the story.
    By contrast, Tolkien made maps (and created languages) to guide his writing.
    Did Lewis make a sketch map of Narnia and its surrounds that Pauline Baynes worked with in making her map?

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    • Hi John, thanks for the comments. You have two questions.
      Would a THS careful reading attending to “space” show Tim’s map to be correct? I’m not sure. I just am not a good reader in that way, but very intuitive and accepting of reality. I would have made a map align with that Malvern-Birmingham corridor.
      Did Lewis make a sketch map of Narnia and its surrounds that Pauline Baynes worked with in making her map? Yes! You can see the map here at the Bodleian library: https://64.media.tumblr.com/43af315bb2958d9e5d7e66d2dbfdf2ff/tumblr_inline_p06icv9YGC1thrjq2_540.gifv.
      Folks might also find this article by Kathryne Hall about Lewis and drawing nice: https://pillars.taylor.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1236&context=inklings_forever

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      • John Gough says:

        Excellent, Brenton. Very interesting, and very helpful.
        The essay on Lewis’s own drawings for “Boxen”, also mentioning that he briefly considered illustrating “Narnia” himself, before deciding Pauline Baynes would do a better job (and he did not have time for illustrating), leads me to wonder if Lewis archives contain other illustrations (non-“Boxen”) that have not been published in Collected Letters or other books? I know some of “Narnia” grew from images (dreams) Lewis had, such as the faun (“Tumnus”) with an umbrella. It seems Lewis was also creative in visual-image ways, but this has not (with the exception of the essay you cited) been discussed.
        Thank you!

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        • It’s a good question. I have seen very few sketches, and never the faun in a snow wood, I’m afraid. Who knows what is left in the world, but I haven’t seen anything.

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          • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

            There’s a jolly photo somewhere ‘ out there’ of Lewis’s marginal sketch working out the armor in his copy of Tolkien and Gordon’s ed. of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.

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  4. Steve says:

    This came at exactly the right time, as we are discussing THS in the Inklings forum, and, among other things, I have discovered that all my previous readings have been of the abridged version, and the full version has much fuller descriptions of the country around Edgestow.

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    • Great Steve! I have been the opposite and haven’t read the shorter abridged version. I should try it.

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      • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

        I just read the Pan abridged version (1980 reprint of 1955) for the first time and noticed, in comparing the Macmillan paperback version of the unabridged text that the word ‘midlands’ had been cut from before the characterization in one place of Edgestowe as a “market town”. This somehow got me wondering if Lewis was (among other things) playing with the idea that things would have developed differently if Stamford (in Lincolnshire) had become a university town instead of Oxford. I love Stamford, but do not know it well enough by heart to see easily if Edgestowe includes specific, ‘ Stamford-y’ details…

        Liked by 1 person

        • Great, now I have a new town to visit!

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        • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

          I looked up the details again: Chapter 6, Section 2 – paragraph 1 in the Pan, and 6 in the Macmillan. Macmillan “To a little midland market town like Edgestow even visitors from the other side of the county had hitherto ranked as aliens” corresponds to Pan “To a little market town like Edgestow even visitors from the next county ranked as aliens”. Interesting differences: do “other side of” and “next” imply anything about county size or shape? In any case, they have not only “market town” but “little” in common…

          Checking Malvern, I see the direction to Birmingham is the same as in Tim Kirk’s map…

          There is nothing decisive about ” midland” as the West Midlands and East Midlands include an enormous amount of England, from the border with Wales to the North Sea…

          In any case, my memory of Stamford is that it is (I hope not only ‘was’!) worth a visit if you are travelling in that area!

          Liked by 1 person

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  6. John Garth says:

    There’s quite a bit of Oxford in that map, isn’t there?

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    • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

      Indeed, there is! Moved by the Pan abridged to compare the Macmillan unabridged in Chapter 1, section 3 of Lewis’s (!) only time as a guest at Bracton, it struck me as a lot like Magdalen College – as on Tim Kirk’s map – but a cataloguing of the similarities and dfferences would be interesting…

      Liked by 1 person

    • Oh dear, John, I responded to your comment. I don’t know where it went.
      But it is a response of ignorance in any case! Yes, I see CSL’s bio in all he does, and as David comments, there is a bit of a close-to-home feel here. I have a feeling that Tim Kirk is wise to lean in that direction, if that is so.

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  8. I too have very happy memories of that weekend and our hike around Malvern, Lewis’s school, and then the hills above it, dropping down to St Anne’s Well and back into the town. When our children were young we camped by Coniston Water in the English Lake District. One of our daughters had developed an enthusiasm for the stories of Arthur Ransome two of which were set in that country. We enjoyed a number of happy expeditions seeking out the locations within Ransome’s stories but, of course, we discovered that he had created a fictional landscape based upon the “real” one. And the “real” landscape somehow acted as a barrier to our entering Ransome’s imaginary one. It was always just a little bit smaller somehow.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, it was a great day! If you recall, I wasn’t sure that Malvern “felt” like the novel–but it is also 65 years later! I think these questions are good, though I can’t come to a final answer yet. Perhaps a geographer could do so.

      Liked by 1 person

    • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

      Very interesting about Ransome! I was gotten to pay proper attention to the ‘Swallows and Amazons’ series by a visitor to The Kilns who gave me a list of titles. I still have not read them all, but much enjoyed every one so far, starting with those you mention. More recently, I read his fascinating autobiography, edited posthumously by Rupert Hart-Davis – which, among other things, put me onto W.G. Collingwood’s Thorstein of the Mere: A Saga of the Northman in Lakeland (1895). It is full of topographical detail, which left me wondering how accurate that was meant to be – I have not yet read the ‘after material’ – but I suspect he went about things with an eye to accuracy – though also conjectural reconstruction after around a 1000 years.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I assume that it is a complete coincidence that Lewis’s hero shares a name that is similar to that of the author of Swallows and Amazons! Surely Lewis would have approved of the children in Arthur Ransome’s stories. He did not approve of the romantic relationship between Tom Sawyer and Becky Thatcher feeling that it spoilt the story somewhat. There is no hint of romantic interest in Ransome’s stories.
        On the topography of Ransome’s Lake District, and in particular the area around Coniston Water, my conviction is that it is completely true to the nature of that landscape but he did create his own version of it. Does Lewis do the same around Edgestow of does he draw upon a number of places and their topography and then bring them together in his own creation?

        Liked by 1 person

        • I did try to find a Ransome/Ransom link but never found it.
          This question might be key: Does Lewis do the same around Edgestow of does he draw upon a number of places and their topography and then bring them together in his own creation?
          After all, Edgestow might be Oxford towne + Malvern + some Belfast district.

          Liked by 1 person

          • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

            I have not yet had a chance to look at Michèle duPlessis-Hay’s dissertation (whom I ‘mis-orthographed’ in my earlier comment), but her abstract mentions attention to chronology and I would not be surprised if she has interesting things to say about topography as well.

            A variant on the question: might Lewis have a ‘base place’ into which he ‘plugs’ selected elements of other places? Interestingly, the 1974 Green-Hooper biography says, “The idea of the N.I.C.E. […] and its ruthless appropriation and partial destruction of Edgestow […], was suggested by the controversy over the founding of the atomic factory of Harwell near Blewbury (‘Belbury’ via ‘bluebell’) fifteen miles from Oxford”. (I suspect many of us will think ‘Bel’ as “an East Semitic form cognate with the Northwest Semitic Baal with the same meaning” (to quote the Wikipediast) also contributes significantly to that name.)

            Liked by 1 person

  9. John Gough says:

    I wonder, Stephen, if you can answer my earlier question: do the details of Lewis’s description of the topography in “That Hideous Strength” fit the Map of Edgestowe?
    Parallel to that question (can the map be sketched from the descriptions in the novel?), do Lewis’s descriptions in the novel fit the topography around Oxford? Or, as you suggest, the hills around Malvern, Lewis’s old school, and St Anne’s Well?

    Liked by 2 people

    • Others will know Oxford much better than I do but I rather suspect that the map draws upon features of all the places that you mention and Lewis certainly transforms them all in That Hideous Strength.

      Liked by 1 person

      • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

        Reading the Pan abridged novel already got me wanting to reread the unabridged version – maybe I should try to do so, with minute attention to ‘topographical’ details along the way, to see just how much detail there is – but I share your suspicion that Lewis (as well as the map) synthesizes and transforms various places, to go beyond the numerous novelists who make up Oxford colleges to make up a whole university town!

        Meanwhile, Arend Smilde has kindly made me aware of David Lake’s short 1989 study of “The Variant Texts of That Hideous Strength” and of the 2013 Duplessis-Hay dissertation toward an annotated edition of the novel.

        Liked by 1 person

  10. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    Just learned of something I wonder if Lewis knew (only checked vol. I of the Letters so far: no index ref), for the quotation I heard from it sounded very THS compatible: F.M. Cornford’s Microcosmographia Academica (1908). Its Wikipedia article links a couple transcriptions, and here is a scan:

    https://archive.org/details/microcosmographi00cambiala/page/n5/mode/2up

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