Inklings and Arthur Series Introduction by David Llewellyn Dodds

Brenton Dickieson is running a series of blog posts, edited by David Llwellyn Dodds, over on Pilgrim in Narnia. Please have a look!

A Pilgrim in Narnia

It was as an ‘Arthurian’ that I first consciously encountered Charles Williams, with that adjective applying to both him and me. (I, ever since I was given Emma Gelders Sterne and Barbara Lindsay’s retelling, King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table,  as a little fellow, however hair-raising were Gustaf Tenggren’s depictions of Lancelot’s sword splitting Meliagrance’s helmeted head in half and the giant Taulurd’s severed arm in mid-air as Sir Tor hewed it off.)  It was only later that I realized I had already happily encountered him, enriching Dorothy Sayers’ notes in her translation of Dante’s Comedy.

However, it was not until I thought to ‘work on him’ seriously that I came to learn how many of Williams’ Arthurian writings were still unpublished. In this adventure of reading I ended up as a textual editor. But I have also been in awe of that other kind…

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King Arthur Has Returned: TOC and Blurbs

IA coverDear Readers:

The Inklings and King Arthur: J. R. R. Tolkien, Charles Williams, C. S. Lewis, and Owen Barfield on the Matter of Britain

is available on Amazon (where it is currently the #1 new release in Religious Literature Criticism!) and Barnes & Noble. I suspect you can also order it from independent bookstores; the ISBN is 978-1944769895 and the publisher is Apocryphile Press. Please let me know if you have any cool (or annoying) stories about ordering it, reading it, using it as a doorstop, stopping traffic with it, or anything else. 🙂

Friends and colleagues have been asking for the Table of Contents on social media; here it is. And then below that, I have all the blurbs from the wonderful, kind, famous, and brilliant people who pre-read the book and wrote up endorsements. Enjoy — and please help spread the word! There are lots of important chapters in here, and I want them to get a very wide readership indeed. Cheers.

Table of Contents

Introduction—Present and Past: The Inklings and King Arthur.
—Sørina Higgins

Texts and Intertexts
1. The Matter of Logres: Arthuriana and the Inklings.
—Sørina Higgins
2. Medieval Arthurian Sources for the Inklings: An Overview.
—Holly Ordway
3. Mixed Metaphors and Hyperlinked Worlds:
A Study of Intertextuality in C. S. Lewis’ Ransom Cycle.
—Brenton D. G. Dickieson
4. Houses of Healing: The Idea of Avalon in Inklings Fiction and Poetry.
—Charles A. Huttar
5. Shape and Direction: Human Consciousness in the Inklings’ Mythological Geographies. —Christopher Gaertner

Histories Past 
6. From Myth to History and Back Again:
Inklings Arthuriana in Historical Context.
—Yannick Imbert
7. “All Men Live by Tales”: Chesterton’s Arthurian Poems.
—J. Cameron Moore
8. The Elegiac Fantasy of Past Christendom in J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Fall of Arthur.
—Cory Grewell

Histories Present
9. Spiritual Quest in a Scientific Age.
—Jason Jewell and Chris Butynskyi
10. The Stripped Banner:
Reading The Fall of Arthur as a Post-World War I Text.
—Taylor Driggers
11. “Lilacs Out of the Dead Land”:
Narnia, The Waste Land, and the World Wars.
—Jon Hooper
12. “What Does the Line along the Rivers Define?”:
Charles Williams’ Arthuriad and the Rhetoric of Empire.
—Benjamin D. Utter

Geographies of Gender
13. “Fair as Fay-woman and Fell-minded”: Tolkien’s Guinever.
—Alyssa House-Thomas
14. Beatrice and Byzantium: Sex and the City in the Arthurian Works of Charles Williams. —Andrew Rasmussen
15. Those Kings of Lewis’ Logres:
Arthurian Figures as Lewisian Genders in That Hideous Strength.
—Benjamin Shogren

Cartographies of the Spirit 
16. “Servant of All”: Arthurian Peregrinations in George MacDonald.
—Kirstin Jeffrey Johnson
17. Camelot Incarnate: Arthurian Vision in the Early Plays of Charles Williams.
—Bradley Wells
18. “Any Chalice of Consecrated Wine”:
The Significance of the Holy Grail in Charles Williams’ War in Heaven.
—Suzanne Bray
19. The Acts of Unity: The Eucharistic Theology of Charles Williams’ Arthurian Poetry.
—Andrew C. Stout
Conclusion—Once and Future:
The Inklings, Arthur, and Prophetic Insight.
—Malcolm Guite

 

Endorsements from the back of the book:

My thanks go out to Sørina Higgins, for her driving force which has pulled together this impressive collection of essays. These shine a light on a fascinating aspect of the Inklings’ work. I’m struck by the appreciation of Britishness that weaves through the selection. The list of contributors reads as a Who’s Who in the field of Inkling Studies. This valuable work would be a fine addition to the shelves of scholars and thinkers everywhere.
Owen A. Barfield, Grandson & Trustee, Owen Barfield Literary Estate

These richly varied essays are a welcome introduction to the Arthurian writings of the Inklings, the group of Oxford intellectuals who included J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, and Charles Williams. Each essay explores an aspect of the Arthurian legend as it was re-imagined in the first half of the twentieth century, shaped by two world wars and far-reaching social change. Engaging with key themes of Arthurian reception, from medieval origins to mythic geographies, Christian modernism, gender, and imperialism, this vibrant new collection is the first comprehensive overview of Arthur in the world of the Inklings.
Helen Fulton, University of Bristol, editor of the Blackwell Companion to Arthurian Literature

This serious and substantial volume addresses a complex subject that scholars have for too long overlooked. The contributors show how, in the legends of King Arthur, the Inklings found material not only for escape and consolation, but also, and more importantly, for exploring moral and spiritual questions of pressing contemporary concern.
Michael Ward, Fellow of Blackfriars Hall, University of Oxford, and co-editor of C.S. Lewis at Poets’ Corner

During the earlier twentieth century, the period of the two World Wars, “King Arthur” became (once again) a potent symbol of defiance, national sentiment, Christian unity, and secular failure for politicians like Churchill, historians like R.G. Collingwood, and more creative writers than can readily be remembered. Prominent among the latter were “the Inklings,” the group of friends which included Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, Owen Barfield, and Charles Williams. Sørina Higgins’ compilation of twenty essays provides a survey both of the Inklings’ contributions, which culminated in Tolkien’s The Fall of Arthur (2013), and of their wider context in life and literature; as also a number of closely-focused studies of works both familiar and little-known. Packed with information, and engagingly written, this provides a new view of the Inklings and of their intellectual and cultural world.
Tom Shippey, author of The Road to Middle-earth

Endorsements from the inside of the book:

A gathering with an acknowledged bias toward and emphasis on Charles Williams, The Inklings and King Arthur offers new insights on the difficult and demanding Arthurian poetry of this least critically studied Inkling. But it has as well an impressive array of essays on all the preeminent Inklings—Tolkien and Lewis and Williams and Barfield—that will be a significant contribution to the study of their Arthurian works in particular and of twentieth-century Arthurian literature in general.
Verlyn Flieger, Author of Splintered Light, A Question of Time, and Interrupted Music

In recent years, it has become increasingly clear that the Arthurian legends and their world were of vital importance to the writing and thought of the major Inklings. Under Sørina Higgins’ enterprising editorship, this adventurous and illuminating volumes offers a wealth of insights—from theoretical, contextual, interpretative, and other viewpoints—which will move the study of Barfield, Lewis, Tolkien, Williams, and their immediate predecessors into new and exciting territory, showing that the Inklings’ concern with the ‘Matter of Britain’ was motivated not by nostalgia but by urgent concern for the present and future.
Grevel Lindop, author of Charles Williams: The Third Inkling

Sørina Higgins has performed a wonderful service in opening our eyes to the living presence of King Arthur in the scholarship, imaginative writing, and wartime religious reflection of the major Inklings. With its stellar cast of scholars and interpreters, this volume is an indispensable resource for Inklings and Arthurian studies, and indeed for all who seek to understand the modern mythopoeic imagination.
Carol and Philip Zaleski, co-authors of The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings

The Inklings and King Arthur: Owen Barfield, C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, and Charles Williams on the Matter of Britain is a powerful collection of essays that fills a gaping hole in Inklings’ scholarship. While many readers have long noted the presence of Arthurian motifs and allusions in the works of the Inklings, few are aware of how extensive these connections are. Sørina Higgins has drawn together an impressive group of scholars who offer scholarly yet thoroughly readable essays covering the scope, depth, and influence of Arthuriana in writings of Barfield, Lewis, Tolkien, and Williams. This book should be on the shelf of all Inklings readers.
Don W. King, Montreat College, author of C. S. Lewis, Poet

The Inklings and King Arthur is a very significant addition to serious study of the Inklings circle of C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, and their friends. It distinctively focusses upon the group rather than only on Lewis, Tolkien, or other members individually, as has often been the case. The circle is represented convincingly in featuring four of the shaping members, all important writers, and their common interest in King Arthur and the Matter of Britain as a living and breathing tradition. This theme is demonstrated to be an important key for unlocking the heartbeat of the informal group, and dispels the persistent myth that the Inklings were not part of, nor relevant to, the concerns of modernist writers after World War I. This deeply researched, sharply up-to-date, and well-unified collection of essays provides a wealth of discoveries for the reader and opens many doors for further Inklings’ study.
Colin Duriez, author of The Oxford Inklings: Lewis, Tolkien and Their Circle, J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis: The Gift of Friendship, and other books relating to the Inklings

Taken as a whole, the essays in this collection lead to the surprising but inescapable conclusion that it is in their Arthurian works that the Inklings’ thoughts and writings are most intertwined, not only with each other, but with the wider currents of the twentieth century. This book is essential reading, not only for scholars of fantasy literature, but for all those interested in understanding how traditions and writers shape each other.
Michael D.C. Drout, Wheaton College

Just when serious students of C.S. Lewis’s writing think there is nothing new to be said about his work—at least nothing original and significant—Sørina Higgins has edited The Inklings and King Arthur. In short, this is an important book. Every contributor’s essay is fascinating. I intend to recommend it to my students.
Lyle Dorsett, Beeson Divinity School, Samford University

The historical, legendary, and literary King Arthur lay at the heart of much of what the Inklings wrote—sometimes explicitly, sometimes concealed as deeply as the Isle of Avalon itself, and always filtered through the unique interests and interpretations of the authors as individuals, as Higgins’ introductory essay demonstrates. This ground-breaking collection presents new scholarship on topics as diverse as violence, historicity, gender, medievalism, ecology, mysticism, and personal biography at the nexus of Arthuriana and Inklings studies. Especially exciting is the inclusion of some of the first published criticism on Tolkien’s The Fall of Arthur and its unique re-visioning of the Matter of Britain. Those interested in the Inklings or in modern interpretations of the Arthurian mythos will find much thought-provoking material in these pages.
Janet Brennan Croft, editor of Mythlore: A Journal of J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Charles Williams, and Mythopoeic Literature

Sørina Higgins collects twenty essayists’ discussions of twentieth-century British Arthuriana, primarily but not quite exclusively that written by the Inklings. Some essays compare thematic aspects of Charles Williams’, C. S. Lewis’, J. R. R. Tolkien’s, and Owen Barfield’s Arthurian writings; other essays give historic backgrounds, consider the Inklings’ treatments of gender, or discuss the religious significance of the Holy Grail (that is, discuss mainly Charles Williams’ treatments of the “Graal”). Some readers will think the lengthy focus on the Inklings’ Arthuriana too restrictive, but these writers’ continued-and-growing critical acceptance as exponents of types of Christian Romanticism that survived through Modernism(s), and seem to be doing better than some Modernists through Post-Modernism, means that the Victorian fragmentation of the literary culture is still the basic truth. Here are discussed some fascinating cultural shards.
Joe Christopher, Professor Emeritus, Tarleton State University

This book identifies a very important thread in the intellectual curiosity, creative work, and spiritual convictions of the Inklings.  For students of the Arthurian tradition, it will reveal an under-appreciated chapter of the Arthur story from the early twentieth century. For Inklings enthusiasts, it will unfold a fascination they might never have known that the Inklings shared.
Corey Olsen, President of Signum University, author of Exploring J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit

This is such a good idea for a book that it’s surprising no one thought of it before. It’s hard to overstate the degree to which the world the Inklings grew up in was permeated by the Arthurian story. Just going by names alone, think of Tolkien’s father (Arthur Tolkien), Lewis’s best friend (Arthur Greeves), Williams’s mentor in occult studies and ritual magic (Arthur Edward Waite), and one of the Inklings himself (Barfield, who went by his middle name, but whose full name was Arthur Owen Barfield).
—John Rateliff, author of The History of The Hobbit

This volume follows Arthurian leylines in geographies of myth, history, gender, and culture, uncovering Inklings lodestones and way markers throughout. A must read for students of the Inklings, particularly those interested in Charles Williams.
Aren Roukema, Birkbeck, University of London

This is a wonderfully rich and long overdue examination of a theme in the Inklings that has never had the attention it deserves–a theme that locates them firmly within the mainstream of the British imagination.  These studies are theoretically sophisticated, lively and original, and will be of the greatest interest to students of English literature in general as well as Inklings enthusiasts.
Dr. Rowan Williams, Master of Magdalene College, Cambridge

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King Arthur has Returned — and The Inklings are Tweeting about it!

IA cover

Will King Arthur ever return to England? He already has. The Inklings and King Arthur is now available on Amazon

In the midst of war-torn Britain, King Arthur returned in the writings of the Oxford Inklings. Learn how J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, Charles Williams, and Owen Barfield brought hope to their times and our own in their Arthurian literature.

Although studies of the “Oxford Inklings” abound, astonishingly enough, none has yet examined their great body of Arthurian work. Yet each of these major writers tackled serious and relevant questions about government, gender, violence, imperialism, secularism, and spirituality through their stories of the Quest for the Holy Grail. This rigorous and sophisticated volume studies does so for the first time.

Four and a half years ago, a previously-unpublished work by J.R.R. Tolkien appeared: The Fall of Arthur, his only explicitly Arthurian writing. The publication of this extraordinary poem revealed subtle connections between “The Matter of Britain” and the rest of Tolkien’s legendarium, and thus 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. It became immediately obvious that a scholarly study of these works was necessary.

I began editing The Inklings and King Arthur, a collection of academic essays that fills the gap. It rigorously and accessibly examines the Arthurian works of Tolkien, Lewis, Williams, Barfield, their predecessors, and their contemporaries. It offers exciting, important analytical perspectives on a wide range of the Inklings’ Arthurian and related works, contributing essential material to the academic field. It brings together established, well-known scholars and emerging voices. It employs many theoretical perspectives and interacts with a wide variety of important conversations.And the Inklings themselves are going to come from the grave to celebrate.

Here are the endorsement blurbs from the back of the book: 

back of book

Owen A. BarfieldMy thanks go out to Sørina Higgins, for her driving force which has pulled together this impressive collection of essays. These shine a light on a fascinating aspect of the Inklings’ work. I’m struck by the appreciation of Britishness that weaves through the selection. The list of contributors reads as a Who’s Who in the field of Inkling Studies. This valuable work would be a fine addition to the shelves of scholars and thinkers everywhere.

Helen FultonThese richly varied essays are a welcome introduction to the Arthurian writings of the Inklings, the group of Oxford intellectuals who included J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, and Charles Williams. Each essay explores an aspect of the Arthurian legend as it was re-imagined in the first half of the twentieth century, shaped by two world wars and far-reaching social change. Engaging with key themes of Arthurian reception, from medieval origins to mythic geographies, Christian modernism, gender, and imperialism, this vibrant new collection is the first comprehensive overview of Arthur in the world of the Inklings.

Michael WardThis serious and substantial volume addresses a complex subject that scholars have for too long overlooked. The contributors show how, in the legends of King Arthur, the Inklings found material not only for escape and consolation, but also, and more importantly, for exploring moral and spiritual questions of pressing contemporary concern.

Tom ShippeyDuring the earlier twentieth century, the period of the two World Wars, “King Arthur” became (once again) a potent symbol of defiance, national sentiment, Christian unity, and secular failure for politicians like Churchill, historians like R.G. Collingwood, and more creative writers than can readily be remembered. Prominent among the latter were “the Inklings,” the group of friends which included Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, Owen Barfield, and Charles Williams. Sørina Higgins’ compilation of twenty essays provides a survey both of the Inklings’ contributions, which culminated in Tolkien’s The Fall of Arthur (2013), and of their wider context in life and literature; as also a number of closely-focused studies of works both familiar and little-known. Packed with information, and engagingly written, this provides a new view of the Inklings and of their intellectual and cultural world.

Now, the Inklings have come back to life to tweet about King Arthur! 

lewis-inklings-featured

As you may recall, two years ago, @Oddest_Inkling was drunk-texting on Christmas. Last year, C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, Charles Williams, and Owen Barfield went for an #InkWalk in the country together, tweeting as they went. Tomorrow, they are going to have a Twitter party to celebrate the publication of The Inklings and King Arthur!

Please join @OddestInkling, @PilgrimInNarnia, @BarfieldDiction, & @JohnRonaldReuel or use the hashtag #InklingsAndArthur at 8pm Eastern Standard time tomorrow, Monday, January 1st, to follow the fun! They will talk about their Arthurian works, discuss what appealed to them about the Matter of Britain, quote from their own writing and others’, and maybe even answer questions about the book.

Meanwhile, go order a copy! Order one for a friend! Order a dozen for anybody you forgot at Christmas!

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A Call for Guest Posts: The Inklings and King Arthur with Guest Editor David Llewellyn Dodds

Brenton Dickieson, one of the contributors to “The Inklings and King Arthur,” is hosting a series of guest blog posts all about our book! Check it out!

A Pilgrim in Narnia

It is an intriguing fact of literary history that the Inklings were individually fascinated by the Arthurian legends. Christopher Tolkien’s publication of his father’s The Fall of Arthur caused a literary sensation in 2013, highlighting how deeply the Matter of Britain is in conversation with Tolkien’s legendarium. Arthurian themes run through C.S. Lewis’ fiction—including the eruption of the whole Arthurian landscape into his dystopic That Hideous Strength—and he approaches Arthurian material as a scholar. Charles Williams, who published two Arthurian books of poems and one Grail novel, left much of his work on his desk after his sudden passing in 1945. Owen Barfield’s fiction dances with Arthurian themes, and many of us encountered Arthur first through Roger Lancelyn Green’s adaptation of Morte D’Arthur.

King Arthur seems to be one of the centrifugal forces of the Inklings as a loose literary collective. It is this observation that drew a…

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Book Launch Party for “The Inklings and King Arthur”!

IA coverI am happy to announce that The Inklings and King Arthur is scheduled for publication on January 1st, 2018, and TexMoot has the honor of hosting the book release party!

This celebration will take place between noon and 1:30, during lunch. Dr. Corey Olsen will introduce this new collection of scholarship. The editor, Sørina Higgins, and the cover artist, Emily Austin, will discuss their work. Copies will be available for purchase. Please register for TexMoot and join us to celebrate the release of this long-expected book!

Here is information about the book:

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 extraordinary poem revealed subtle connections between “The Matter of Britain” and the rest of JRRT’s legendarium, and thus 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. It became immediately obvious that a scholarly study of these works was necessary.

The Inklings and King Arthur, edited by Sørina Higgins, fills that gap. It is an edited essay collection that examines the Arthurian works of Tolkien, Lewis, Williams, Barfield, their predecessors, and their contemporaries. It offers exciting, rigorous analytical perspectives on a wide range of the Inklings’ Arthurian and related works, contributing essential material to the academic field.

The cover design, by Signum University student Emily Austin, was chosen by popular poll through 99Designs. Emily writes about her design:

Not only is a pipe a rather apt symbol for the Inklings, but smoke itself is such a dynamic and fascinating substance that I felt it would prove an excellent visual counterpart to the ever-adapting Arthurian stories. The image as a whole had the potential to evoke thoughts of legend, history, imagination, and storytelling. Stylistically, this cover reflects some elements of Tolkien’s artwork. There is also, perhaps, a nod to Aubrey Beardley’s illustrations for Le Morte d’Arthur.

This collection of 20 essays thus is the result of a collaboration among scholars (from Baylor University, Signum University, many other institutions, and independent scholars), with lovely original cover art. We hope you can attend the party, hear about the book, and go hope with a few copies for yourself, your school, and your friends and family.

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King Arthur Returns on January 1st

Friends! Rejoice with me! The Inklings and King Arthur has a cover design (by Emily Austin) and a release date: January 1st, 2018! This important collection of academic essays brings new perspectives to the field of Inklings studies, positioning Tolkien, Williams, Lewis, & Barfield’s Arthurian works in their 20th-century context. More details about pre-ordering etc. as they become available. Please follow @SorinaHiggins on Twitter for quotes, author bios, and juicy nuggets as we count down the days to the New Year and this new book. cover 2

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“The Marriage-Craft”: Novel Occult Sexuality

CW Was Such a Character

Each investigation into Charles Williams’s life and work reveals new depths of his occult involvement and new peculiarities of his theological system. I have found this to be true whether I am reading his own works, scholarship about him, or (as in this case) novels in which he features as a character. You’ve already read about Nor Fish Nor Flesh, the strange 1933 novel written by CW’s colleague Gerry Hopkins about their love triangle with Phyllis Jones. Well, in 1924, another of his friends had published a novel in which CW is one of the main characters, and it is just as strange, and just as revealing of CW’s personality and thought, but very, very different.

No wonder CW thought he was a “great man” (as he writes in letters to his wife from the 1940s), if everybody he knew was writing novels about him in the 1920s and 30s!

And what strange novels they are–not that this is a surprise, considering the subject. Nicholson’s The Marriage-Craft is a strange beast indeed. It is a philosophical dialogue, as Lindop calls it, consisting almost exclusively of conversation with very little plot, setting, or other typical techniques of fiction.

But first, some background.

How Many Occult Groups?!

As we now know from Grevel Lindop’s 2014 biography Charles Williams: The Third Inkling, CW was involved in not one but two occult groups. Once we cleared up the confusion spread by early works that claimed CW was a member of the Order of the Golden Dawn (he wasn’t), we were able to focus on the ten years he spent in A. E. Waite’s Fellowship of the Rosy Cross from 1917-1927. Very important work has been done recently on the influence of the FRC on CW’s fiction and poetry; more needs to be done about its influence on his theological ideas.

However, very little work has been done on CW’s other occult group, the one that Lindop introduced in his biography. This was, apparently, an unofficial meeting of Williams with Rev. A. H. E. “Henry” Lee, an Anglican priest, and D. H. S. Nicholson, at Lee’s vicarage. They meet biweekly for twenty years “to explore spiritual matters” from 1919 until 1939 (Lindop 63). Lee was a member of Golden Dawn breakaway group, the Stella Matutina (thanks, Aren Roukema!), and apparently Lee got hold of one of the super-secret instructional lectures from a high-ranking Golden Dawn member and taught those rituals to Nicholson and Williams (Lindop 65). It’s possible that “they may well have arranged for Williams to be initiated” (Lindop 68)–which would mean CW was a member of some kind of Golden Dawn group, after all.

What did they talk about? Well, they discussed alchemy, kabbala, astrology, yoga, and “the transformation of sexual energy for spiritual purposes” (Lindop 64). And Nicholson’s novel The Marriage-Craft brings these conversations to life.

Sex on a Boat

Here’s the premise of the novel. At the beginning of the story, the narrator (the Nicholson character, called “Peter”) and “Ronald” (the Williams character) are on a train, talking loudly about sex. Ronald proposes that married couples should not be allowed to live together more than six months out of every year. As they walk through the countryside later, Ronald comes up with the brilliant idea that they should get a party of their friends (along with a priest and a professional prostitute) together on a barge for a week to talk about the whole “tangle” of problems relating to sex and marriage, and solve the darn thing once and for all.

Much to the narrator’s surprise, Ronald actually does gather together 9 people, and they really do live on a barge for a week and talk through a fairly orderly list of topics on sexuality:

1st day. The purpose of sex. Physical reproduction? Mental creation? Spiritual development? Or all three?
2nd day. If for all three, can they be reconciled? If not for all three, for which of them in preference to the other or others, and how is the object to be achieved?
3rd day. Celibacy and Marriage.
4th day. Monogamy and Polygamy.
5th day. Free Marriage and Free Love.
6th day. The sacramental idea.
7th day. The hope of transmutation.
(p. 34)

The nine conversationalists include the Nicholson character, Peter, and his secret mistress, Eileen; the Williams character, Ronald, and his mostly silent wife Mona; an artist and his theosophical wife; a big bully of a barrister, Pearce, and his oppressed and abused wife, Mary; and a celibate priest, “Henry,” obviously based on the Rev. A. H. E. Lee. No prostitute attended, after all, although Peter says Eileen will “do” to represent that element (nice thing to say about one’s girlfriend).

My first surprise about this novel is that it’s written in a very clear style. Somehow I thought that any occult friend of CW’s would write in the horribly obscure style that he used, which he may partially have learned from A. E. Waite; hermeticists are not generally known for the lucidity of their prose. But The Marriage-Craft is written in a clear, simple, straight-forward style that’s easy to understand.

My second surprise was that it’s pretty good. There’s not much by way of plot, since it’s all dialogue, but there’s a fair amount of human tension. Not as much as one expects in a novel in which you take 9 passionate humans and lock them on a boat for a week to talk about sexuality, but there’s a build-up to a moment of the Big Reveal when Eileen says that she and Peter are lovers. And there is character development, especially in Pearce, who loses some of his sickening, bullying arrogance and complacency.

Do They Solve the Problem?

What about the question(s), though? What about the conversations? What do they talk about, and what conclusions do they come to? Do they “solve” the problems of the purpose and praxis of sex?

I don’t think so. They do come pretty close; the best part is the discussion of sacramentalism, which I believe must be at the heart of any Christian teachings on sexuality (and isn’t, which is why American Evangelicalism is such a cesspool of bigotry, misogyny, and sexual abuse–but I digress–or do I?). They do believe that love, romance, marriage, and sex are extremely important in the grand spiritual scheme of the universe, and are important in order “to remind us of the realities they reflect” (70), but they disagree heartily on the specifics. In the end, occult ideas win out over traditional or mainstream ones.

The question of the purpose of sex, the occultists in the group agree, “is as vital as the question that had to be asked by the seekers in the Grail romances.” “It is that question,” the Henry Lee character insists, “exactly that question and no other. ‘What serves the Grail?’ And the Grail, of course, stood for the whole sex mystery” (39). They go so far as to suggest that “sex force” is somehow the most primal, essential reality of all: it might be the force of creation itself, even the power that drives the soul to God. “Fundamentally, everyone is burning with desire for the upper world,” Henry claims (70), and sex force is an expression of that desire. It can be captured and re-directed into anything else: into art, or devotional fervor, or anything. That’s the transmutation part of it, towards which the whole book drives.

As you can see from even this brief summary, these characters are very spiritual, but not particularly Christian. They don’t quote the Bible or discuss patristic theology. Even Pearce, the voice of the Establishment, doesn’t; he merely blusters and talks about “tradition” and “society” and “culture” and “the family.” The others enact what it is easy to imagine Williams, Nicholson, and Lee discussed month after month at the Vicarage in their [quasi-] Golden Dawn meetings, as they developed a theory of the transmutation of sexual desire.

Stranger Than Fiction Should Be

My final surprise, then, was what a vivid picture this novel gives of Charles Williams. Of course, it’s fiction, so I mustn’t give it too much weight. But the portrait conforms to those painted for us by C. S. Lewis, Lois Lang-Sims, T. S. Eliot, W. H. Auden, and others who knew CW. He is charismatic, dynamic, ebullient, and also cynical and bitter. He brings out the best in others as they talk, guiding their thoughts until they express themselves with greater profundity than they could on their own. And yet he is also thoughtless and cruel, ranting against marriage with vehement hatred while his wife looks on and listens, calmly (there’s even a hinted suspicion that perhaps they are living in marital celibacy, p. 77, although “Ronald” claims to have enough sex force for the usual outlets and plenty left over for spiritual transmutation).

Perhaps more importantly, the conversations are startlingly exact copies of ideas, concepts, and even quotes from later works such as Shadows of Ecstasy,* Outlines of Romantic Theology or Letters to Lalage or the Arthurian poetry. What this reveals is the profound influence of Nicholson and Lee’s particular brand of occultism on CW’s thought and work. In particular, they–not A. E. Waite–gave him the fundamental ideas that he later perverted into his own “Romantic Theology,” which included “the Celian moment” (loving a second person besides one’s spouse), consensual but unconsummated BDSM, and emotionally and physically abusive master-disciple relationships that were not fully consensual.

Above all, the concept of permanent quest(ioning) pervades this book. Henry reminds them: “But remember, there never was any answer given, as far as I have been able to find, in the Grail stories, even when the question was asked and the Quest finally achieved” (39). Maybe the point, Henry speculates, is merely to ask the question. It seems to me that this is what Charles Williams was doing all his life: Asking the interrelated questions: “What was the purpose of the Grail and everything it represents? What is the purpose of love/romance/marriage/sex, and is it the same as the purpose of the Grail? Where is history headed? In what way(s) are we members of one another? What is the Body of Christ? What is real truth, and is it secret or public? What more is there to know? What shall I do with these raging [sexual/poetic/power-hungry] desires? How can I get what I want with them, and/or give them to God? What is the point of poetry?”

For Williams, these were all the same question, and he dedicated his life–personal and creative, though they were not separate spheres–to asking them. I for one do not think he answered them. Do you?

 

 

 

*This novel seems to add extra weight to Brenton Dickieson’s “Irresponsible Suggestion about Charles Williams’s First Novel”: that Considine is at least partially a self-portrait.

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Announcing TexMoot!

You are cordially invited to attend

TexMoot:
The First Annual North Texas
Literature & Language Symposium 

13 January 2018
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary,
Fort Worth, Texas 

Keynote Speaker:
Dr. Corey OlsenSignum University

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Signum University is pleased to announce the first annual North Texas Literature & Language Symposium Symposium (aka “TexMoot”) on January 13, 2018, at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. This one-day event will include flash-paper sessions, a panel of invited guests, a keynote address by The Tolkien Professor, creative presentations, and lots of time for fellowship (open mic, games, and of course conversation!).

The theme of this one-day symposium is “Stories for the Refreshment of the Spirit.” Visit the TexMoot site for the CALL FOR ACADEMIC PAPERS and CREATIVE PRESENTATIONS about healing in literature or applications of literature to real-life recovery.  Stay tuned to TexMoot.org for announcements about special guest panelists, the event schedule, and evening festivities. We hope to see you there!

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Choose King Arthur’s Cover!

Dear readers! Please go over to 99Designs and vote on your favorite book cover for The Inklings and King Arthur! Here are the four finalists; I’d be happy to hear your comments about what you like, because I can communicate with the artists to make suggestions.

 

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Mind the Gap: Where Scholarship on C.S. Lewis and other Wade Authors needs some Filling-In

Sunlit Fields

mind-the-gapHello friends. As promised, and long overdue, I am checking in again to write the third and final post on reflections of the C.S. Lewis and Friends Colloquium that took place at Taylor University in June 2016. Posts one and two focused on why I felt the Colloquium embodied a healthy example of academia, and the enjoyment I had of attending as an archivist. This post will focus on a gap in scholarship on C.S. Lewis (and other Wade authors) that I’ve noticed and that I was reminded of at the Colloquium.

Let me start by making 2 observations I’ve had as archivist at the Wade Center over the past 12 years:

    1. First of all, for many years people would come up to me and say: “I’m leading a Bible study group / church group / book discussion group and we’re reading C.S. Lewis’s book: (fill in…

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