Notes on “Magnum Opus” Part 3

lewisPlease check out post one and post two about the Inspector Lewis episodes “Magnum Opus,” all about Charles Williams. Let’s proceed!

Hathaway starts explaining CW’s distinctive ideas to Maddox:

Charles Williams believed in a living breathing spirituality in which we could all become as Christ. … about forgiveness. That because we are like Christ we too can take away the sins of the world.

Now, this is right and wrong. It’s right because Christianity itself teaches that Christians become like Christ through the process of sanctification. I had a conversation with Dr. Ralph Wood yesterday, and he discussed how he thinks the Eastern doctrine of theosis influenced C. S. Lewis. He thinks there is a far deeper theology of becoming like Christ in Lewis’s works than has been previously studied; think of Lewis’s saying that God wants to make us all into “little Christs.” Anyway, whether Williams was taking a more “eastern” or “western” approach to sanctification, he certainly did believe, along with all Christians, that we strive to become like Christ.

But did he believe that we could take away the sins of the world? I cannot recall anything in his writings that suggests this. Can you?

The quote I gave you above was from the shooting script. What Laurence Fox actually says on screen is “we can forgive all the sins of the world.” That’s not exactly the same as “take away.” But again, I can’t recall anywhere CW said that we can forgive all the sins of the world.

In the next scene, at a tattoo shop, Hathaway asks if the tattoo artist is a Charles Williams fan. His reply?

“Yeah. Not all tattooists are pagans.”

Hm. I’d wager that there’s probably a large number of “pagans” among CW’s fans. There certainly would be a huge number of occultists (not at all the same thing), as well as Christians—but Jay Fennell’s remark seems to suggest that all CW fans are Christians, which is entirely misleading. Not all Christian readers of his work are comfortable with his occult (and specifically alchemical) material, or his sexual experimentation, which will come up again later.

Lewis and Hathaway walk into a lecture on alchemy, and the lecturer says:

Jung was convinced alchemical images were unconscious archetypes, keys for unlocking the psyche. Surely they have meaning. Clearly they are profound.

After the lecture, Lewis asks the professor: “Can you think of any connection between alchemy and Charles Williams?” and he answers: “There isn’t one.” Well, we’ve already talked about this, so I won’t belabor the point, but I just can’t wrap my head around it. Since alchemy is at the heart of CW’s work, I have a hard time following this story. It’s like a mystery that depends upon there being nothing Platonic in C. S. Lewis, or nothing about the “long defeat” in Tolkien. So it’s hard for me to understand the plot. Since these two things—Christian mysticism and alchemy—are united in CW’s thought, where’s the mystery? Obviously someone interested in one would be interested in the other, so what’s the problem?

A. E. Waite agreed with Jung that alchemical symbols were profound archetypes, and so did Williams’s close friend and mentor A. H. Lee. Lee:

“was deeply interested in the works of Mary Anne Atwood (1817-1910), who had taught that the chemical operations spoken of in alchemical texts were really allegories for a process of spiritual transformation, aimed at transmuting the ‘base metal’ of the ordinary sinful human being into the pure ‘gold’ of a purified person in contact with God.” (Lindop 78).

Gavin Ashenden wrote an entire book on this point: Charles Williams: Alchemy and Integration. In it, he explains that

Although the alchemical tradition that Williams made use of had begun in pre-Christian syncretism, the form in which he encountered it had been deliberately Christianized by Waite.

How did CW use alchemy? Ashenden tells us:

This alchemical culture, so far form undermining theological credibility, provided Williams with the remedial means of holding together the disjunction between the two “Ways” and between the material and spiritual it was the language and means of integration.

It was central to his thought. It was, arguably, what made his system of thought work.

Sorry; I guess I belabored that point after all. Apologies.

Here’s an interesting bit from the shooting script that was cut from the episode. The murdered guy’s widow tells Hathaway that the library is where she and her husband:

did most of our courting, if you could call it that. He was terribly shy and kept getting me to order Williams books so he could talk to me. He ran out of titles in the end and had to ask me out instead. It’s as well Williams wasn’t more prolific.

Not more prolific? OK, he wasn’t Isaac Asimov, but he did write 58 books by my count. That would take them well through a year or so, if she had to order each one, then he read it, then she ordered another.

Then Hathaway asks her whether there was anything going on between her husband and a young woman. She says:

His boundaries might have been loose but his morals weren’t. Williams again you see.

That’s confusing, too. Does she mean he wouldn’t have sex with the young woman because of the influence of Williams? Well, maybe, but Williams himself had many intense, strange, sexual-but-unconsummated relationships with young women; certainly not the kinds of interactions his wife would be okay with!

This episode moves toward its emotional highpoint: the Companions gathered at a ritual to do something spiritual to or for Annapurna. The words of the ritual are:

DAX: I, Dax Kinneson, desire to take your sins upon me, to substitute them for love, so that you may be released from your suffering.

JAY: We offer your transgressions up to Christ for substitution in the hope of blessing and redemption through His grace.

So, this is close to what the real-life Companions of the Coinherence did, and yet wildly different. The Company was commanded, in the “Promulgation” that CW wrote, to the  contemplation:

on the active side, of methods of exchange, in the State, in all forms of love, and in all natural things, such as childbirth. As it was said: Bear ye one another’s burdens.

Okay. But look closely at the words of the ritual. Dax says he will substitute her sins for love. That’s backwards; doesn’t he mean he’ll substitute love for her sins? And he says he’ll take her sins upon himself, but Jay says they offer the transgressions up to Christ. I can see how those two actions could be connected, but the ritual does not explain how they are. Is Dax standing in the place of Christ in this ritual? Perhaps. Or is Dax offering himself up to Christ as the one who will substitute for Annapurna? Perhaps. Is either of those things quite what Williams taught to his disciples?

Well, the best evidence we have for what he actually told his disciples to do is in Letters to Lalage. He wrote to Lois Lang-Sims (“Lalage”), telling her to perform an act of substitution on behalf of Alice Mary Hadfield (whom Lois did not know). Alice Mary was taking a three-week journey, sailing over very dangerous seas mined by the Germans; her life was in serious danger. Lois was to substitute herself for Alice Mary. CW wrote:

You will therefore, without anxiety and in tranquility, pray for her and present yourself shyly to Almighty God in exchange for her. … This is a real thing, and you will do it handsomely and even gaily—without fancy or invention—for the Company and the Doctrine.

He said that perhaps nothing would happen, or perhaps Lois would experience some inconveniences on Alice Mary’s behalf. That is the clearest real-life example of Exchange and Substitution we get in CW’s writings. I would be interested to hear what you think of it. Is it like what Chris Murray presents in the Lewis episode, do you think?

Oh, by the way, at some point we get a glimpse of the title page of this ritual, which apparently Dax Kennison wrote, and he’s headed it: “A Second Golden Dawn.” There’s a lot to unpack in that, but I’ll move on.

All right, we’ll end for today with one more scene. Hathaway is reading his way through a pile of books on alchemy. He’s reading one called Secrets, and we get a glimpse of the page. It reads:

The Companions of Co-Inherence.

Below this is the image:

 

perichoresis

By 1stEc.Domnowall, 2ndUser: Perhelion – tonquedec et église,melrand et chapelle,berrien et chapelle,cruas, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18250014

There it is again! The perichoresis image! I wrote to Chris Murray to ask him how the connection was made between this image and CW’s Order; we’ll see what he has to say. That’s enough for now, eh? Plan to watch the episode on Sunday evening!

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Notes on “Magnum Opus” Part 2

lewisThe Charles-Williams-themed two-episode story of Inspector Lewis will air in the US this Sunday, so I’m blogging about it in some detail. Here’s yesterday’s post.

Now, onward! Yesterday, I ended with a quote about how the Way of Exchange is just like carry a heavy box or parcel for someone else. Interestingly, the next shot is of Hathaway’s sister carrying a heavy box through his doorway. He doesn’t get up to take it from her. Rejecting the co-inherent nature of the universe, are you, Gorgeous?

After Beskin’s talk, several of the attendees are talking in a pub. The script is a bit stilted here, but I’ll point out one quick little quote. A character says: “Williams was a minor theologian and no academic” and another says that’s in his favor. This is a topic of conversation in CW scholarship: some writers play up his outsider status, going so far as to call him an autodidact, while others downplay the fact that he had no college degree and emphasize that he taught at Oxford along with Lewis and Tolkien. so, depending on one’s attitude towards higher education, one might say Williams was or wasn’t an “academic.” But he certainly was a minor theologian, if that!

Beskin gets a text message from someone he’s nicknamed “The Lioness.” This introduces an animal symbolism for characters that’s roughly based on the Platonic archetypal animals in The Place of the Lion.

51KzHDR-TwL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_As Lewis and Hathaway walk to the murder scene, Hathaway says that Beskin was giving a talk on Charles Williams, “The third Inkling.” Is this a nod to the title of Grevel Lindop’s bio, or only a cheerful little staff work of the Omnipotence?

Curiously, the shooting script says that Hathaway’s line is “Charles Williams, the Third Inkling, a regular at their pub discussions,” but Laurence Fox didn’t say that bit about CW’s being a regular at the pub discussions—which makes his line more accurate. CW was a regular at the pub discussions, but that wasn’t the Inklings proper. The Inklings proper was the Thursday night meetings in C. S. Lewis’s rooms at Magdalene College, Oxford. That’s when they shared works in progress. The pub discussions were much more informal.

Hathaway, that walking encyclopedia, after reading an obscure quote left with the body, immediately knows that it has something to do with alchemy. Lewis asks: “Turning lead into gold?” And Hathaway replies with a very intelligent answer, one that might have come from A. E. Waite himself—or from Modern Alchemy by Mark Morrisson:

More than that. A precursor to modern science, trying to understand the secrets of nature in order to unlock the mysteries of the universe. … For some alchemy is more of a spiritual process. Converting the lead of ignorance into the gold of enlightenment.

At the station in the morning, did you catch the cute little Tolkien reference? Maddox says: “Hardly the Battle of Helm’s Deep.”:)

Now, here’s a point where Hathaway makes a mistake. Lewis looks at the alchemical quote found on the body and says:

 You were right about the alchemy. Quote is from a seventeenth century German alchemist. Question is, what’s that got to do with murder? Or Charles Williams? Did Williams write anything about alchemy?

In the script, Hathaway replies:

Not that I know of. Everything but. The Grail. Tarot. Ritual magic. But not alchemy. Wrote theology, supernatural novels and was something of a mystic. (a glance at MADDOX) No film franchises yet.

[That’s pretty sweet, considering several of us, including the author of “Magnum Opus,” really want films made of the seven novels!]

This line is considerably shortened in the episode. Hathaway only says: “Wrote theology, supernatural novels and was something of a mystic.”

But of course, CW did write a lot about alchemy. Not much of it was very explicit—it was the spiritual kind, not the metallic kind—but his play The Chaste Wanton is explicitly about alchemy. Got one wrong, Cutie!

The screenwriter, Chris Murray, told me that this separation between CW and alchemy was a deliberate choice. He wrote to me that

the story is kind of a clash between some people into CW and someone into alchemy and in order to get not one but two esoteric notions into a mainstream TV show (normally producers get very nervous of anything esoteric) I had to simplify massively and keep stating as part of the detective puzzle ‘but there is no link between CW and alchemy, they are two entirely separate things’ when I know full well that in fact there is a degree of crossover and that CW did touch on notions of spiritual alchemy… but that all got edited out over the process.

So there you are. Poor Hathaway had that mistake written into his script. What’s a fictional character to do? This separation between Williams and alchemy is emphasized more and more as the story goes on, which I find very confusing.

Hathaway also doesn’t catch on when they find that Beskin’s contact list had not only “The Lioness” but also “The Butterfly,” “The Serpent,” and “The Eagle.” But it’s not long before he picks up a copy of The Place of the Lion at Beskin’s house and remembers. Aha! These animals are characters in that novel! Beskin’s sister is the Serpent. Don’t bother asking who the other two are, though; Murray told me he doesn’t know.

Around about 16:30, a tattoo is revealed on Beskin’s chest. It’s this coinherence symbol, that I’ve used several times on the blog:

perichoresis

By 1stEc.Domnowall, 2ndUser: Perhelion – tonquedec et église,melrand et chapelle,berrien et chapelle,cruas, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18250014

And here’s a funny thing. Do a google image search for “coinherence.” OK? Have you done it? What did you come up with? The first image is probably that one. And what’s the source? My blog. Yeah, but that’s not my image. But if you google “perichoresis,” you find that the image is on Wikipedia. Again, Chris Murray shows his brilliance behind the scenes, in making that visual connection between “coinherence” and “perichoresis.” Nicely done. There’s more about this symbol later, too.

Now, the Easter egg! At 18:00, Carina Sargent picks up a printed copy of her brother’s talk on Charles Williams. Here’s a screen shot:

3

Do you recognize that? It’s this blog! It’s my Introduction post! Hooray. We’re famous.

Come back tomorrow for more.

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Notes on “Magnum Opus” Part 1

lewisI was delighted and honored to have this blog appear in a two-episode story on the British detective show Inspector Lewis last fall. I love Lewis, and I hope I can get my hands on all the seasons; I’ve only succeeded in watching about three so far, and it’s eye-candy and brain-candy for an Oxford lover like myself.

The story in which The Oddest Inkling appears, entitled “Magnum Opus,” is a dramatization of what might happen if a group of fanatics applied an extreme version of Charles Williams’s doctrine of Co-inherence to their lives, with creepy and eventually fatal results. ITV sent me dvds of the two episodes last fall, and I watched them with voracious interest. It’s a compelling story, with some twists and turns and wrenches of the gut. Then the writer, Chris Murray, was superabundantly generous in sending me copies of the script! So now I’d like to go through the show scene by scene (ish), commenting on the ways in which CW’s ideas are adapted for dramatic purposes. Please note that I am NOT critiquing Chris Murray or anybody else who worked on this show when they used artistic license in deploying elements of CW’s thought; that’s their creative prerogative, and I’m enough of a student of adaptation theory to revel in changes to some original text. Besides, the show is fiction. It’s not the History Channel or a PBS biopic on CW (although that sounds like a great idea to me; Grevel, what do you think?)

Anyway, this is a great chance to bring CW’s ideas and writings to a larger public, and I hope that anyone who watches “Magnum Opus” will also read this commentary in which I compare it to the writings of the Third Inkling. I have two warnings: First, this post series is TOTALLY FULL OF SPOILERS. It’s designed to be read after you’ve watched the episodes, ideally as you re-watch them. Second, “Magnum Opus” contains lots of extremely adult content, including an S&M club, a wide variety of sexual relationships, and some pretty creepy violence, so consider yourself warned.

1“Magnum Opus” opens with a scene in a forge, where an alembic in a fire and mysterious drawings and Latin sayings in an old book suggest that someone is practicing alchemy. A Latin banner held in an eagle’s beak, while partially obscured, says something about white and red. See if you can translate any more of it for me.

Alchemical imagery is extremely important in CW’s writings, especially his late Arthurian poetry. He writes about Galahad:

“Fierce in the prow the alchemical Infant burned,
red by celerity now conceiving the white.”

He certainly practiced some kind of alchemy when he was in A. E. Waite’s Rosicrucian fellowship. Whether this was actual magic, or physical experiments to transmute substances, or purely spiritual exercises to enlighten the soul is unclear—mostly likely it was purely spiritual alchemy, where the “base metal” being transmuted was the initiate’s soul.

Next we see a shotgun and a big bucket full of maggots. Gross. I don’t know anything about maggots anywhere in Rosicrucian imagery (thankfully) – but we’ll see later that this is actually a plot element and part of the murderer’s cover-up. So it’s not necessarily occult imagery, although I can see how it could be construed so in a kind of debased popular imagination that likes to think of human sacrifice and sickening rituals taking place in underground tombs and so forth. There’s nothing like that in F.R.C. practice.

Then a raven gets shot. I can’t find my Rider-Waite Tarot pack right now (I haven’t begun unpacking my books after the move to Texas), but I don’t recall ravens having any special significance in the FRC other than their general association with Doom throughout literature.

2Day 1

The shooting script reads: “A dove descends. Pull back to reveal a stained glass representation of the descent of the Holy Spirit on the window of a chapel.” This is very apt, given that one of CW’s best and most influential books is his 1939 theological work The Descent of the Dove: A Short History of the Holy Spirit in the Church. Interestingly, I don’t see a dove anywhere in the stained glass image that actually made it on screen. In fact, the images don’t even look particularly Christian: they seem to be mainly portraits of Renaissance gentlemen. The central figure could be Christ carrying two little children, or it could be a woman with two infants; it’s very ambiguous. It does suggest bearing one another, which leads nicely into the first spoken words of the episode:

As the Bible says ‘Bear ye one another’s burdens and so fulfil the law of Christ’. To do this Charles Williams promoted the concept of Coinherence…

Indeed he did. The reference is to Galatians 6:2, and this was probably THE central concept of CW’s works: that we could literally bear one another’s burdens. He founded a society or order to do this: the Companions of the Co-inherence. So the concept behind this episode of Lewis is that there’s still a current-day Order of the Companions who continue to practice this idea. But, as we’ll see, they’ve gotten very far indeed from CW’s Christian teaching.

The shooting script says that there’s supposed to be a poster telling us that Phil Beskin is speaking on “Forgiveness in the Works of Inkling Charles Williams,” but I don’t see it anywhere. Too bad; that could have helped clarify things a little and put CW in context for those who don’t know him.

Beskin goes on claim to that CW’s coinherence:

“held that we are all spiritually connected and can, through ritual, share suffering and ease one another’s burdens of, for example, guilt.”

That seems pretty strong. Did CW really believe that, or is this television exaggeration? Well, in his definitive essay on this subject, “The Way of Exchange,” Williams quotes from the desert fathers:

it is right for a man to take up the burden for those who are akin {or near) to him… he must suffer, and weep, and mourn with him, and finally the matter must be accounted for by him as if he himself had put on the actual body of his neighbor… and he must suffer for him as he would for himself.

In expounding upon this quotation, CW writes:

Compacts can be made for the taking over of the suffering of troubles, and worries, and distresses, as simply and effectually as an assent is given to the carrying of a parcel. A man can cease to worry about x because his friend has agreed to be worried by x.

In his next-to-last novel, Descent Into Hell, CW brought this principle to life. His altar-ego character, Stanhope, says to a terrified young lady:

“ ‘Haven’t you heard it said that we ought to bear one another’s burdens?”

‘But that means—’ she began, and stopped.

‘I know,’ Stanhope said.  ‘It means listening sympathetically, and thinking unselfishly, and being anxious about, and so on.  Well, I don’t say a word against all that; no doubt it helps.  But I think … he meant something much more like carrying a parcel instead of someone else.  To bear a burden is precisely to carry it instead of.  If you’re still carrying yours, I’m not carrying it for you—however sympathetic I may be. … If you give a weight to me, you can’t be carrying it yourself; all I’m asking you to do is to notice that blazing truth. … You must give your burden up to someone else, and you must carry someone else’s burden. I haven’t made the universe and it isn’t my fault.  But I’m sure that this is a law of the universe, and not to give up your parcel is as much to rebel as not to carry another’s.’”

Now, what I have not been able to find is any place in which Williams specifically mentions GUILT; does he anywhere say we can take another’s guilt upon us? That seems pretty extreme! Yet he does say, in “The Way of Exchange,” that “Our chief temptation is to limit its operation,” and in the poem “Taliessin on the Death of Virgil,” readers who love Virgil’s writings manage to carry his burden of sin to the extent that they obtain salvation for him! So perhaps “Magnum Opus” is not going too far in saying that CW believed we could carry one another’s guilt.

Yet it does go too far in Beskin’s next claim. He says:

Forgiveness is not a solitary affair. It can be, and is, a shared experience. Because through active engagement with The Holy Spirit, it’s not only Christ who can forgive sins. So can we.

Now, this is tricky. It’s standard Christian teaching that we must forgive those who have wronged us. “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” But does that mean we are actually forgiving their sin, i.e., doing some kind of atonement for them? Well, let’s return to this concept of “not only Christ can forgive sins” when we see where it goes in this story.

[Incidentally, the building where Beskin is speaking is the Westin Library of Oxford’s Bodleian system, which is where I read Barfield’s Quest of the Sangreal last June.]

More tomorrow!

 

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Next Sunday: ‘Inspector Lewis,’ Starring Charles Williams

Remember when this blog appeared in an episode of “Inspector Lewis” last fall? Well, that episode is finally going to air in the USA, this coming Sunday! Don’t miss it! In honor of the US showing, I’ll blog in some detail about the show’s adaptation of facts and fantasies relating to Charles Williams. Stay tuned, and check out Hanna’s blog post, reblogged below.
 

Book Geeks Anonymous

You may remember last Fall, there was a slight brouhaha among Inklings fans online when the British detective series Lewis aired an episode centering around a murdered Charles Williams expert and a shadowy cabal reminiscent of Williams’s own Companions of Co-inherence. The episode, whose premiere coincided with the publication of Grevel Lindop’s long-awaited biography of Williams, was titled “Magnum Opus” and appeared as part of Lewis‘s ninth season. The series airs in the US as well on PBS (where its called Inspector Lewis instead), but because of some odd scheduling, the numbering for the seasons is a bit off. So what was Season 9 for the Brits is Season 8 for us.

I mention this because Season 8 of Inspector Lewis premieres tomorrow on PBS. “Magnum Opus” is the second episode in the season, which means if you want to see it, next Sunday, August 14 is your chance.

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Election Results!

Thank you to all of you who voted in my poll for your favorite guest bloggers on Taliessin through Logres. Here are the top five winners:

poll

Congratulations to Jenn, Arthur, Brenton, Andrew, and David! I hereby invite you five to write another guest post in the future when we get to The Region of the Summer Stars. It will be a while yet, but you can sign up in the comments below for which poem(s) you would like to write about.

And there will also be a special surprise post, an academic article on “The Prayers of the Pope” written by a noteworthy CW scholar, when the series is over! (One of you can still pick that poem; I want two posts on it, one “popular” and one “academic.”)

Cheers!

 

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News Flash: Signum Classes and a Book!

signumLogo_100The great and glorious Signum University, where I serve as Chair of the Lang & Lit Dept and sometimes teach cool classes, has taken a big step forward! We have grown our M.A. Program: now you can choose to concentrate in Tolkien Studies, Germanic Philology, Imaginative Lit (such as F/SF), or Classical/Medieval/Renaissance Literature! And we have just opened the fall classes for registration. You know you want to take one, or two, or all of them! You can enroll for credit, audit, or audit with a discussion option. Some classes are live; some are on a flex schedule. Check them out:
falk* Folkloric Transformations, taught by Dr. Dimitra Fimi, is about vampires, werewolves, ghosts and fairies!
* Beowulf in Old English, taught by Nelson Goering & Dr. Karl Persson, is a translation seminar in which you work through the Anglo-Saxon epic in small, interactive student groups.
* The Story of the Hobbit, taught by Dr. Corey Olsen, examines Tolkien’s life, looks at literary precursors, and examines the growth of the famous tale of Bilbo Baggins.
Sherlock-Science-and-Ratiocination-1000x1000-263x263* Sherlock, Science & Ratiocination, taught by Dr. Amy H. Sturgis, focuses on Poe and Conan Doyle and how their works blended scientific method, mystery, and imagination to create the modern literature of detection.
* Tolkien and Tradition, taught by the great Dr. Verlyn Flieger, explores how Tolkien works with traditional material to make it his own.
* Introduction to Anglo-Saxon, taught by Dr. Michael D. C. Drout, is a prerequisite to further studies in Old English–so if you take it now, you can come back and take the Beowulf seminar next time around!

soul of wit small.jpgAnd then!! Do I have exciting news for you! Remember last fall when Signum held the “Almost an Inkling” Flash Fiction Creative Writing contest? Well, at last the book of the winners is being published! Soul of Wit is scheduled for release one week from today, Friday, July 8th! There are dragons, mysteries, short-form poems, monsters, magic, mermaids, space travel, time travel, laughter, and tears.It’s an impressive collection of miniature works of literature you can read in a short sitting.

You will be able to purchase a copy from the Oloris Book Shop, so check that link on Friday! Meanwhile, spread the word to all your readerly family members and friends.

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Vote for your favorite guest blogger!

vote-buttonForget Brexit! Forget the U.S. Presidential election! This is the most fun you’ll have voting all year — and this is the place where your vote counts the most!

The series of “TTL Poem Posts” is over for now, but it is still open for your comments. Please do go back and add your thoughts to the ongoing discussion. Ask questions about parts of the poems you still don’t understand; debate with the authors on areas of disagreement; share resonances when you are moved by something they say.im_voting_gor_the_crazy_one_bumper_sticker-rfdba83f10ac04a4f87fc1ccbd34841a4_v9wht_8byvr_324

I plan to do another series on The Region of the Summer Stars when the time comes, so let me know who you’d like to have in that series!

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TTL 24: “Taliessin at Lancelot’s Mass.” — by David Russell Mosley

ttl rssHere is Post #24 in the Series on Taliessin through Logres –the last post!! The series is now complete-except for the important addition of YOUR comments on any or all of the posts. Please visit the INTRODUCTION to this series and the INDEX to the other posts in the series.

This closing  post is by David Russell Mosley.

IMG_4423 (1)David Russell Mosley blogs at Letters from the Edge of Elfland. He has a PhD in theology from the University of Nottingham in the United Kingdom, and currently teaches theology part-time for Johnson University. Mosley is the author of the forthcoming books, On the Edge of Elfland, a faërie romance that will be published by Wipf and Stock publishers sometime this year, and Being Deified: Poetry and Fantasy on the Path to God which will be published by Fortress Press sometime this year.

Here is Dr. Mosley reading “Taliessin at Lancelot’s Mass”:

We come now to the final poem in Williams’ Taliessin through Logres. In this poem, Lancelot, for reasons left unexplained, has decided to hold a Mass. Throughout this Mass, strange and unusual things begin to take place until at last Taliessin himself is no longer himself, but rises, almost as incense, and is spread through Wales while there is a kind of call and prayer for the discovery of skill (in poetry? in statecraft? for the renewal of Logres?) in those who are now dispersed, as Taliessin himself is.

We are greeted at the start of this poem with something quite unusual: Lancelot, presumably before he has taken orders in a monastery, is performing a Mass. Taliessin is quite clear: “he was not sworn of the priesthood.” The Anglican Church, to which Williams belonged, requires priestly presidence over the Eucharist (even in the most Evangelical churches is this still technically required). What is more, the Britain, or more precisely the Logres, that Williams depicts is an evidently Catholic one, so Lancelot’s actions would seem sinful. Indeed, it is as if Lancelot is adding sin to sin since it was his adultery with the King’s wife that played a key role in the downfall of Logres. And yet, this is not how Lancelot’s Mass is presented. Lancelot’s mass seems particularly blessed.

We can see this blessedness because something miraculous happens as Lancelot begins the mass:

In the ritual before the altar Lancelot began to pass;
all the dead lords of the Table were drawn from their graves to the Mass;
they stood, inward turned, as shields on a white rushing deck,
between Nimue of Broceliande and Helayne of Carbonek.

All the Knights of the Round Table who have fallen come forward at this Mass. Arthur too, we learn, is among them. This is a great blessing indeed, and yet we must wonder. Why is Lancelot, one who has committed a mortal sin (adultery), now performing the Mass without, it would seem, episcopal commission, being given a seal of approval? We cannot, just yet, I think, answer this question. We must dig deeper, first into this poem and then into the story itself.

l and g

Dante Gabriel Rossetti, “Arthur’s Tomb: The Last Meeting of Lancelot and Guinevere”

Another point of interest that we cannot pass by is, of course, the role the dead Knights play in this mass. Taliessin describes them as “shields on a white rushing deck between Nimue and Helayne.” I find this interesting, for while Nimue is associated with Broceliande and Helayne with Carbonek, we cannot forget that Carbonek is in Broceliande. In the previous poem, “The Last Voyage,” we are told that Logres itself is withdrawn to Carbonek. So why do the Knights stand as shields between these two women? Perhaps we get something of an answer in a later stanza which ought to take us back to “The Departure of Merlin.”

In the tenth stanza of “Taliessin at Lancelot’s Mass,” we are told that, seemingly in the Epiclesis (wherein the priest, here Lancelot, calls on the Holy Spirit to bless the bread and wine, and thereby transform them):

We exposed, We exalted the Unity; prismed shone
web, paths, points; as it was done
the antipodean zones were retrieved round a white rushing deck,
and the Acts of the Emperor took zenith from Caucasia to Carbonek.

If we remember back to “The Departure of Merlin,” we will recall that this antipodean zone, P’o-Lu has been overcome by Broceliande, or is being overcome by it. Now, this is pure speculation, but I cannot help but wonder if perhaps the Knights stand guard between what is left of Logres and Broceliande precisely because of the antipodean zone, that is, because evil is putting up a fight against Broceliande and so the Knights stand guard between Helayne and Nimue despite both women in a way being related to Mary, who is mentioned in the ninth stanza. Helayne is the mother of Galahad, this decidedly human, but almost deified, Christlike-one. Nimue is herself the Lady of the Lake, a title which Mary also claims in some churches and universities (the full name Notre Dame in Indiana is Notre Dame du Lac, or Our Lady of the Lake; there is also a twelfth century church by the same name in Le Thor, France).

This, however, brings me to what I believe the answer to be to the question: why is

galahad

“Sir Galahad” by George Frederic Watts

Lancelot’s Mass blessed? The answer, I believe, is Galahad. I said in my essay that Taliessin through Logres seems to me to be precisely about Galahad and Lancelot and it is this poem above all else that makes me think so. I have said that Galahad is deified, I must explain myself. I do not mean that Galahad has actually become a God. I mean what the Eastern Orthodox Church means by theosis and what many Western churches call deification. Galahad has been so united to Christ, in part through the finding of the Grail, although that was really confirmation of his deification and not, necessarily a cause (although this is debatable), that he has been made as divine as humanly possible. Now, I believe that Williams wants us to view Galahad’s relationship to his biological father (as well as, perhaps, to one of his foster-fathers, namely Arthur) in a similar manner to how the understanding of the Immaculate Conception sees Christ’s relationship to Mary.

Allow me to explain. In the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, Mary is kept from original sin by the grace of Christ, before his birth (the Christ-event, or Incarnation, is often seen in Christian theology as being capable of having effects both in the past as well as in the future). While Lancelot is certainly not kept from sin, he is nevertheless made holy by the accomplishments of his son. The sins he committed, including adultery with Guinevere and fornicating with Helayne, are washed clean by the grace of Christ given to his son Galahad.

For more possible evidence of this, we must simply look at other exchanges that have taken place, specifically with the parents (foster or otherwise) of Galahad. Blanchefleur is exchanged for Guinevere. Guinevere is actually in Blanchefleur’s cell, and both women are foster-mothers to Galahad. In Guinevere, “the mystical milk” rises and we are reminded that she is “the mother of Logres’ child,” namely Galahad. Arthur, one of Galahad’s foster-fathers, is exchanged for King Pelles, the wounded King. Even in this poem, Arthur and Lancelot weave:

the web; the sky
opened on moon and sun; between them, light-traced on high,
the unseen knight of terror stood as a friend;
invisible things and visible waited the end.

Logres has been bound up in Galahad as he has made all things right. Through him, and his healing of King Pelles with the Grail, is the unseen knight, Garlon, King Pelles’ brother, now a friend. These pairs and exchanges have one thing in common, they are made possible, ultimately, by Galahad, or more precisely by Christ through Galahad and the Grail.

As the Mass comes to a close, it is again Galahad in whom our hopes are meant to rest. The Table ascends and those present may reach the “porphyry stair” through Galahad, “the ruddy pillar of the Infant.” Taliessin now rises in the Cross, the rood, and we discover that the altar, which itself seems made of Logres––”Carbonek’s arch, Camelot’s wall, frame of Bors’ bones”––is actually in Galahad’s house (which should come as no surprise since this Mass is clearly taking place in the last refuge of Logres, Carbonek). Galahad is “manacled by the web” woven by Arthur and Lancelot, namely the web of Logres, and yet “in the web made free.” Galahad is bound to Logres, but like the Christian’s submission to Christ, this is a submission that gives true freedom, freedom to chose and will the Good. This fate to which Galahad is bound gives Taliessin joy, a joy which cannot be sung, a joy which participates in that true Joy (denoted by the capital J) which comes from God and allows the Christian to, “rejoice in the Lord always” (Phil. 4.4).

Lancelot dismisses the assembly with the closing words, “Ite, missa est.” And yet we can see this dismissal is not the end, despite its being the end of the mass. It might have been interesting and fitting had Williams ended the poem and book here. For then I could have drawn more directly the parallel between the reading of this book and what happens at the end of the Mass. You see, when once the Mass is over the Christian’s work is only just beginning. The Christian is sent out with Christ and the Holy Spirit residing in them, not to be lazy, but to bring about the Kingdom of God. Similarly here are we being sent out, not to forget what we’ve read or be left wit nostalgia or longing, but to do something, to bring about the return of Logres. The final stanza of the poem tells us this, despite it not ending with Ite, missa est. Taliessin is scattered as so much incense over Wales, and a remnant from the sack of Constantinople (for so I read the line concerning “salvaged sails” from Byzantium) That-Hideous-Strengthgo out into the world to spread the Kingdom. Those of us in our dispersed homes who are the remnants of Logres, are to pray for the skill, whether it be of work or will, are called to pray for it. I am reminded, in part because I just finished reading it, of Lewis’ That Hideous Strength which borrowed its Arthurian themes from Williams. In that story, Logres has a victory over Britain, but that is all it is, a victory. We the readers are meant to remain vigilant, to pray, to seek after the skill that will allow us, like Galahad to renew Logres. That is call with which Williams leaves us, to be Galahads, to overcome darkness with light, to overcome Britain with Logres, to overcome the world with the Kingdom of Heaven.

Ite, missa est.

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TTL 23: “The Last Voyage” — David Llewellyn Dodds

ttl rssHere is Post #23 in the Series on Taliessin through Logres! Please visit the INTRODUCTION to this series first, and here is the INDEX to the other posts in the series.

Today’s post is by David Llewellyn Dodds.

David DoddsDavid Llewellyn Dodds is editor of both the Charles Williams and John Masefield volumes in Boydell & Brewer’s Arthurian Poets series (and recommends Masefield’s Badon poem too). He is currently editing Williams’s Arthurian Commonplace Book and his largely-unpublished 45-poem Advent of Galahad cycle for publication.

‘The Last Voyage’

As we head from one Grail Mass to another (though neither is described), it is worth noting how very full of prayer this book is. There are glimpses of liturgical services (including an off-stage Coronation) and formal or spontaneous prayers. Some of these are prayed privately and some are sought from someone else (perhaps, most strikingly, by Bors from Elayne at the middle – the heart – of the volume).

pylecrt_blanchefleur

Howard Pyle’s Blanchefleur

Here, the three Grail knights are riding the sea-wood Broceliande from Carbonek to Sarras in “the ship of Solomon.” With them is the body of Blanchefleur, Percivale’s sister, Galahad’s fosterer (and Taliessin’s beloved). There seems to be complex liturgical play, here: the “quadrilateral covers of a saffron pall” over her body recalls the ‘palla corporalis’ which covers and enfolds the Body [Corpus] and Blood of Christ in covering the Chalice of the Eucharist (including the Grail) and which did so in early practice by serving as the altar-cloth folded back over Bread and Chalice – and which seems in some cases to have been “used as a pall for a deceased pope.” It may also recall “the pall held over nuns while the consecratory preface is being said at their clothing or profession”.[1]

Williams says in his ‘Note’ in the back of the book, “Blanchefleur died from a letting of blood to heal a sick lady.” The poem treats the substitution and exchange involved in this in more detail.

[The interesting question of the interrelation of his retelling to the dark details of his source for this (Malory, Book 17, chs. 9-13), is one I will not pursue, here.]

shipAfter the first line stating “The hollow of Jerusalem was a ship,”[2] Williams turns to a painting of Solomon and Balkis (Queen of Sheba) on his ship (together with Jerusalem and his “temple”!), found “on the right wall from the stair” in Byzantium. Later, he tells us that Balkis in relation to Solomon “matched power to purpose and passion to peace,” here, speaking of “the sensuous” and “intellectual art.” In this painting, Solomon’s “right hand, blessing, whelmed the djinn.” As “master of all creaturely being” and “rule and road of seeing / for all those who have no necessity of existence in themselves” (and author of Scriptural prayers?), he is interestingly paralleled by Bors. Bors is described as the “action in Logres” of the three Grail knights together, “kneeling on the deck” to the right of the other two, and further described as “the flesh of fatherhood” as he prays “still for the need and the bliss of his household.”

[In terms of the sephirotic tree, why are Solomon, Balkis – and now Bors (and “his household’, including Elayne?) – on the right?]

Between the descriptions of Solomon and Bors, the ship is characterized as swept “from all altars.” We learn that Galahad, as “alchemical Infant,” is “in the prow.” After Bors, we learn of an “infinite flight of doves,” “numerous as men in the empire, the empire riding / in the skies of ocean,” whose “hosted wings trapped the Infant’s song.” What is this song? (Has it anything to do with the poets painted on the left wall?) At a later point, at any rate, it is “thick with a litany of names / from the king and the king’s friend to the least of the slaves.”

Of the ‘litany’, Francis Mershman says, “This form of prayer finds its model in Psalm cxxxv” [Vulgate/Septuagint; Masoretic 136] – the psalm which the significantly Galahad-like Archdeacon Julian Davenant goes about singing in War in Heaven. Litanies are intercessions, someone praying for the good of others, making them present before God, and can include asking others for their prayers. Mershman also notes that after Christianity was legal, public processions became common, often from one church to another, and these “processions were called litanies”.[3] This ‘Last Voyage’ up to this point might be considered a sea-borne ‘litany’ in this sense, and, in some startling imagery, perhaps a ‘litany’-borne one, as the doves’ wings direct Galahad’s song “along the keel, the song hastening the keel.”

Dolphins in both paintings recall Dinadan’s coat of arms, and prepare us for the account of his murder. As Galahad prays for his murderers, a light covers “with flame the spread saffron veil; / the heart of the dead Dinadan burned on the sun, / and gathered and fled through the air to the head of Percivale,” whose “inhaling the fine air of philosophical amazement” is thus connected with “the pertinence of curiosity” for which Dinadan was murdered.

Then comes an astonishing bit of play with liturgical prayer. It is a curious question whether they are bearing the Grail with them, as in Malory (Book 17, ch. 21). But in any case, they are headed for a Grail Mass. At the beginning of the Latin Mass, the “priest goes with his ministers (deacon, subdeacon, and acolytes) in solemn procession to the altar.” Standing at the foot of the altar, they say or sing “alternately and in a loud voice (vox alta) the antiphon: Introibo ad altare Dei… (“I will go in unto the altar of God”), then the forty-second psalm”[4] Psalm 42 begins, “Judica me, Deus, et discerne causam meam” (“Judge me, O God, and distinguish my cause”). But Galahad

sang Judica te, Deus; the wind,
Driven by doves’ wings along the arm-taut keel,
Sang against itself Judica te, Deus.
Prayer and irony had their say and ceased;
The sole speech was speed.

Presumably ,‘Judge Thyself, O God’! (With some further play with various senses and Biblical echoes of wind/spiritus/pneuma/ruach – if “the wind sang against itself”, ‘o God’!).

In his notes for Lewis, Williams speaks of “the point where Galahad is so united with Christ that he has almost a necessity of being in himself; doctrinally heretical, I fear, but pass.” The penultimate line of the penultimate section, which includes, “Judica te”, is “the necessity of being was communicated to the son of Lancelot.” While one can think of heretical senses, one need not: especially if Williams pays proper attention to his own “almost”.[5] Need this be more extreme than the prayer later in the Ordinary of the Mass, “da nobis per hujus aquae et vini mysterium, ejus divinitatis esse consortes, qui humanitatis nostrae fieri dignatus est, particeps, Jesus Christus” (“by the mystery signified in the mingling of this water and wine, grant us to have part in the Godhead of Him who hath vouchsafed to share our manhood, Jesus Christ”)? ‘Judge Thyself, O God’ could mean Galahad has been brought to an obedient faith content with God’s Providence in everything, or to a state such as Paul’s when he says, “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me” (Galatians 2:20).

[Whether someone brought so far, would express himself with such cheeky Scripture-twisting playfulness – whether Williams does well or wisely to imagine this of Galahad, is another question.]

In his Arthurian Commonplace Book (p. 159), thinking about A.E. Waite’s discussion of one idea of the etymology of ‘Carbonek’ as “the Sovereign Chair”, Williams thinks of Galahad in these terms: “the soul assumes the rights which, until the moment arrives, have been delegated to the priestly order. (Cf. Dante – ‘king and bishop o’er thyself’.)” (seemingly quoting Purgatory, canto 27, line 142 by heart). Is ‘The Last Voyage’ something like a working out of this idea?

NOTES

[1]Most of the information about the ‘palla corporalis’ is from Herbert Thurston, “Corporal” (1908), but the first quotation is from Francis Mershman, “Funeral Pall”(1909), while the last quotation is from Herbert Thurston, “Ritual of Marriage” (1910), all from The Catholic Encyclopedia as transcribed online at New Advent: Williams drew on another of Thurston’s articles in his Commonplace Book.

[2] The connection to the genitals in the gynecomorphic map-image of the Empire is something to which Williams implicitly attends in his notes of December 1938 for Lewis. “ ‘the hollow of Jerusalem’ – the generative organs of this life are no more than the shoulder-hollows of Galahad. What his generative organs are, no-one has begun to imagine.”: as published by Anne Ridler in The Taliessin Poems of Charles Williams by Various Hands (1991), p. 75.

[3] Francis Mershman, “Litany” (1910), The Catholic Encyclopedia as transcribed online at New Advent.

[4] [Vulgate/Septuagint with verse 4 supplying the antiphon, which concludes “to God who giveth joy to my youth”; Masoretic 43]. Pius Parsch, The Liturgy of the Mass, translated by Frederic C. Eckhoff (St. Louis, MO / London: Herder, 1940 “Fifth impression” of 1936 ed.), p. 64 (Dr. Parsch’s interesting history of these prayers suggests that Williams was probably being anachronistic here, though his discussion of Psalm 42 with antiphon as “the baptismal hymn of the liturgy of Milan, chanted by the neophytes as they went in procession on Easter night […] to assist at their first Mass and to receive their first Holy Communion” in the time of St. Ambrose offers an interesting parallel to ‘The Last Voyage’, and his discussion of “the spirit of these prayers” rewards reading in this context: pp. 66-70): as scanned at the Internet Archive.

[5] Curiously, Lewis leaves the “almost” out in quoting this: see John Rateliff’s discussion in “Charles Williams: The Lost Letter (Part two)”, note 8, as posted at his Sacnoth’s Scriptorium blog on 28 February 2016.

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TTL 22: “Percivale at Carbonek” — David Llewellyn Dodds

ttl rssHere is Post #22 in the Series on Taliessin through Logres! Please visit the INTRODUCTION to this series first, and here is the INDEX to the other posts in the series.

Today’s post is by David Llewellyn Dodds.

David DoddsDavid Llewellyn Dodds is editor of both the Charles Williams and John Masefield volumes in Boydell & Brewer’s Arthurian Poets series (and recommends Masefield’s Badon poem too). He is currently editing Williams’s Arthurian Commonplace Book and his largely-unpublished 45-poem Advent of Galahad cycle for publication.

‘Percivale at Carbonek’

Taliessin through Logres displays something I think we can see in the Arthurian poems in the earlier Heroes and Kings as well: the careful ordering of a selection of poems which are nonetheless intended to be parts of a larger cycle. Avid Williams fans of the 1930s could even just have glimpsed how it grew out of the earlier (form of Arthurian) cycle, if they knew Lascelles Abercrombie’s anthology, New English Poems (1931). The result is, these poems tell us something about each other, and the careful sequence of this volume, but not about anything that isn’t there yet. And so we have two poems leading up to Grail Masses which have no poems of their own; two poems which also bracket the first of these Masses – and the healing of the Wounded King after the Dolorous Blow – at Carbonek.
Behind the scenes, Williams made this very clear exactly 77 years ago, in a letter of June 1939 to Alice Mary Miller (later Hadfield), where he discusses plans and ideas for poems to come next, including one “just preceding the present Percivale at C.”, and ones about the Conception of Galahad, the Grail Mass at Carbonek, and “Balin and the Dolorous Blow. God had better take care of this; I can’t”, but “O no; not the Achievement in Sarras; not yet.” (In the event, readers have had to be content with extrapolating for themselves from the splendid Graal Mass in War in Heaven, and glimpses in earlier poems.*)

percy‘Percivale at Carbonek’ presents Percivale’s only poem in this book, an eyewitness account of an extraordinary incident when the three Grail knights arrived, but Galahad did not immediately lead the way and re-enter Carbonek (where he was conceived and born), for Mass where the elusive Grail – beckoning in the first line – is familiarly present, and to heal his wounded grandfather, patiently waiting in daily agony “for health” for longer than Galahad’s lifetime. Galahad does not, however, have to pause to battle a monstrous enemy lurking at the threshold to gain entrance, as, in ‘The Son of Lancelot’, Merlin must physically dash the filicidal cannibalistic werewolf Lancelot out of the way to allow Galahad as a newborn to exit the same gate, to be borne to Percivale’s sister for nurture. Why does he pause?

perc

Parzival at the Grail Castle, by A. Spiess

Carbonek is a mysterious place, quite concrete, yet beyond the border of Logres, in Broceliande, and “the people of Pelles” are presented as “celestial,” as “astonished angels of the spirit,” and seem bewildered by Galahad’s behavior. They remind me of “the winged squadrons of the sky” who “Look down with sad and wondering eyes” in Henry Milman’s Palm Sunday hymn, ‘Ride on, ride on in majesty.’ In his own way, here, as Christ there, Galahad bows his “meek head to mortal pain.” Why?

It would seem that, just as Pelles’ daughter, Helayne, is ‘the destined mother,’ so Lancelot was her destined husband as father of their son, Galahad. But Arthur’s selfish choice(s) contributed to the mortally sinful selfish choices of Lancelot and Guinevere of an ‘exclusive’ adulterous relationship in which (in words of Tennyson praised by Williams) they are “falsely true” to each other. While, in the western understanding, the eligible bride and groom are the ministers of the sacrament of Holy Matrimony, each must be not only eligible for, but also consenting to, the marriage, or there is no marriage, but a nullity. So, what Helayne could intend and wish for as a marriage could not be so without Lancelot’s consent. And Lancelot had not come to Carbonek simply consenting as virgin eligible spouse like Helayne, nor as a consenting penitent, having been converted from and forsworn his persistent adultery. He was the subject, the victim, of a ‘bed-trick.’

2987In All’s Well that Ends Well–one of the two plays which F.S. Boas calls “Shakespeare’s problem-plays” where there is a bed-trick–the husband, Bertram, is tricked into consummating a marriage publicly celebrated to which he had explicitly consented. In the other, Measure for Measure, Angelo is tricked into becoming one flesh with someone to whom he was publicly affianced by oath, with “the nuptials appointed.” Nothing like this applies in Lancelot’s case.

[Interestingly, the title of that play is thought to be taken from one of the ‘measure for measure’ passages in the Gospels (cf. Matthew 7:2, Mark 4:24), and in ‘The Son of Lancelot’, Merlin rushing to dash Lancelot aside is characterized by an echo of Luke’s version (6:38) as “the measure pressed and overrunning.”]

Lancelot, who had adulterously tricked Arthur innumerable times for years, had in turn been tricked into becoming one flesh with his own ‘destined wife.’ And yet, he had never been convinced, converted, had never consented. The fact that he had, as it were, ‘unintentionally done the right thing, for once’ by intending to have sex with someone who turned out to be his ‘intended’, drove him mad. Yet, in that madness there is responsibility for murderous intent, and for particularly odious filicidal intent against his innocent newborn son.

Yet the grown-up Galahad, come to Carbonek, does not (for whatever reason) seem to resent or fault that murderousness, or Lancelot’s deliberate, habitual adultery, and in it constant betrayal of friendship as well as active treason. Instead, he “wept for the grief of his father” at an unconscious ‘betrayal’ on Lancelot’s part – for which Galahad has no personal responsibility, though he is in his person the beneficiary of it as cause of his very existence. What ‘should have’ happened, has in fact happened, yet not as it should have happened. He also explicitly seeks “pardon” as member of “the house of Carbonek”: what was done, was done deliberately by his mother, presumably as intended by his grandfather, Pelles.

What is even stranger is that, immediately after Galahad’s birth, Lancelot was taken into “Carbonek’s guest-chamber” where he “lay tended, housed and a man, / to be by Easter healed” – only 7 weeks later. There is no clear suggestion anywhere in the book that Lancelot regrets being saved from being a murderer, and a cannibal filicidal one at that, or that he holds anything against Galahad in his innocence, or even against Helayne, Pelles, Brisen, or Merlin for their deliberate action.

But Galahad is agonized by the fact of the fraud, their betrayal, even if it “betrayed […] to truth,” the means, even if it is “the means of grace,” and Lancelot’s actual suffering that followed, feeling his inextricable involvement in it: “In the name of Our father forgive Our mother for Our birth.” Interestingly, he asks this of his paternal kinsman, Bors, who must serve as a substitute for Lancelot, who is only mysteriously present by a “padding of paws, […] the faint howl of wolf,” from before his return and healing, audible at least to Percivale.

sephirotic tree[Also interestingly, with Grevel Lindop’s post on “Taliessin in the School of the Poets” – with its attention to the sephirotic tree – in mind, we see that Galahad (corresponding to the central “column”), between Bors and Percivale (corresponding to the “columns of Justice and Mercy”), turns “to his left, to Bors” – presumably the column of Justice – asking for “pardon” or forgiveness.]

Bors effectively corrects him: “only God forgives.” He reminds him Lancelot is “kind”, which in the historical meaning of the word reaffirms his having returned to being “a man” and living according to the proper end of human nature (however falteringly). No children according to their human ‘kind” choose in advance to be born, but he prays “that my children assent / and through God join with me in bidding their birth”, in gratitude for that gift of existence – and opportunities for its “proper operation” (as Williams translates the book’s motto from Dante). By another substitution, Galahad asks Bors to go first and steps “in his footprints”. Probably most of us know this image from J.M. Neale’s carol, ‘Good King Wenceslas,’ where the page treads “boldly” in the saint’s “footsteps,” but it is a saintly and Christological image with a long history in legend and liturgy, about which I would like to know a lot more.

NOTES

*Including ‘The Song of the Riding of Galahad’ in Heroes & Kings, arguably ‘Percivale’s Song’ in New English Poems, and ‘Percivale’s Last Song’ first published in my Arthurian Poets edition (together with reprints of the other two).

For more details about some of the history and imagery of ‘Percivale at Carbonek’, see my “Continuity and Change in the Development of Charles Williams’s Poetic Style”, in The Rhetoric of Vision: Essays on Charles Williams, ed. Charles A. Huttar and Peter J. Schakel (Lewisburg; Bucknell UP / London: Associated University Presses, 1996).

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