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in 2013, a previously-unpublished work by J.R.R. Tolkien appeared: The Fall of Arthur, his only explicitly Arthurian writing.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

signumLogo_100

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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Signum University Fall Registration

signumLogo_100Hear ye, hear ye!
Fall 2017 registration at Signum University is open! Come peruse our lineup of marvelous classes and make your Sophie’s choice among them – or bravely refuse to do any such thing and simply quit your day job so you can sign up to take them all!
Introducing Writer’s Forge
This year, Signum is offering a new student service: the Writer’s Forge, a writing tutorial program where you can hone your craft, becoming a more effective communicator within Academia at large and in your degree work in particular. The Writer’s Forge can give you confidence in your abilities as a scholar, even if it’s been a while since you tried your hand at a paper.
Signum Advisory Reminder
Don’t forget to take advantage of Signum’s advisory program. If you’re a credit student, contact your Signum Advisor ASAP to discuss your progression in the degree program. We encourage all Signum MA students to give thought to when they will take the Research Methods course specifically, as Signum requires that this class be taken within your first four courses. Everyone else is strongly encouraged to take this course, as it provides fundamental skills and concepts for success in all Signum classes, the M.A. thesis, and future work in the fields of language and literature.
Tuition Announcement
Finally, a short word: you’ll notice when you access the signup forms for your class(es) of choice that tuition has increased slightly: credit courses from $575 to $650, and discussion audits from $425 to $475. President Corey Olsen has a short informational video on the reasons for this increase. In brief, Signum has been growing by leaps and bounds. In the past four years, as the almost entirely volunteer staff has been doing wonders to keep pace with Signum’s promising growth, we’ve been able to keep our tuition steadily low, in keeping with our vision: to make quality higher education affordable and accessible to all! Though our operating costs have enlarged as we’ve grown, we’re proud that this year is the first since 2013 that we’ve needed to introduce a modest tuition increase. And we remain committed to per-credit costs that are far below any equivalent degree programs out there.
Signum’s Fall Course Offerings
Each course has a brief summary listed here; click through to the linked course pages for more information.
 
Beowulf in Old English(Prerequisite: “Introduction to Anglo-Saxon.”) Beowulf has long been seen as the crown jewel of early English literature. We at Signum are therefore pleased to be able to offer what is becoming increasingly rare: an opportunity to translate and scrutinize this poem line by line. Through intensive, seminar-style classes, students will be given an opportunity to practice their skills in translating the Old English language, as well as to become intimately familiar with this text.
Chaucer I: Visions of LoveWhat besides The Canterbury Tales did Chaucer write? How did Chaucer engage with earlier medieval authors? This class is the first semester in a two-part survey of Chaucer’s major works. In this first semester, we will study the works with which Chaucer established his reputation in his time: his early dream vision poems and his greatest completed work: Troilus and Criseyde. We will be reading Chaucer exclusively in Middle English, but no previous experience with Middle English is required.

Elementary Latin IIThe second semester of “Elementary Latin” will complete your introduction to the basic elements of the Latin language. Last semester, we began reading connected passages and short selections of unaltered Latin; this semester, these readings will become more prominent as our knowledge of Latin advances. You will not be expected to speak Latin, but you should have at this point a good classical pronunciation and know where to place important accents.
Introduction to Germanic Philology I: This class offers a survey of the older Germanic languages (especially Gothic, Old Norse, and Old English), and the literatures written in those languages. We will take the textual records of these languages as our point of departure, examining their literary qualities and linguistic peculiarities, as well as their historical and cultural contexts.
Norse Myths & Sagas: This course provides an introduction to the myths and sagas of medieval Scandinavia. The course focuses on readings from authentic texts in translation (no knowledge of the original languages is required!) but also discusses the wider cultural and historical context, including consideration of echoes from the medieval Norse literary tradition in modern culture and fiction.
A note on both the Germanic Philology and Norse Sagas pages: these pages will be fairly bare for a while, with just instructor, course number, and course description. More details will be added there in the coming weeks. But for now, think of it as thematic. The sparseness and severity of northerly climates, and all that.
Research MethodsWhat is literature? Why do we read it? How do we interpret it? How do contingent matters such as gender, race, class, and historical context affect the ways we interpret literature? How do we maintain contact with the significant scholarly conversations relevant for reading particular kinds of literature? These questions and the various ways the discipline of English literature has responded to them are the subjects of Signum’s Research Methods course.
Tolkien’s Wars and Middle-earthWho were the T.C.B.S? How did they influence Tolkien? What did he do in the First World War, and how did it change him? What became of his first “fellowship” of friends? How does the trench experience infuse The Lord of the Rings and other works, and how does all this relate to his other passions-myth and fairy-tale, the medieval, and the invention of languages?
Thank you so much, each of you; your enthusiasm, participation, intelligence, and goodwill make Signum the vibrant and rewarding community that it is today.
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Wanted: Fantasy/Science Fiction/Pop Culture Preceptor

(reposted from https://signumuniversity.org/news/wanted-fantasyscience-fictionpop-culture-preceptor/)

The Department of Language & Literature at Signum University is currently seeking preceptors to join the faculty team in our Imaginative Literature concentration.

What Does a Preceptor Do?

The purpose of the position of Preceptor is to support the instruction of language and literature classes by:

  • Leading live small-group online discussion sessions
  • Liaising with the course lecturer(s)
  • Assigning and evaluating writing, projects, and assessments
  • Providing feedback and clarification for students
  • Occasionally offering guest lectures and/or participating in roundtable discussions
  • Contributing to the life of the university through various opportunities for service

General Qualifications

The successful candidate will have:

  • An M.A. in English, Languages, or a related field (Ph.D. preferred)
  • Experience teaching a diverse population of students at the college level (graduate teaching preferred)
  • A high level of comfort and ability working with technology or a demonstrable willingness and aptitude to learn the technologies used for Signum’s digital campus (online teaching experience preferred).

Passionate, knowledgeable, compassionate, visionary scholars are the ideal candidates for precepting at Signum.

Specific Qualifications

In addition to the general precepting requirements, an F/SF/Pop Culture candidate should possess:

  • A sound knowledge of proto-science fiction and the origins of modern SF.
  • Familiarity with pulp fiction, early SF, golden age SF, 20th- and 21st-century fantasy lit, and modern/postmodern popular culture.
  • Additional interests in film, gaming, etc. also encouraged.
  • Experience working within critical approaches to popular culture; academic presentation or publication experience on F/SF/PC preferred.

How to Apply

Send your C.V. and a letter of interest to the Department Chair, Sørina Higgins, at sorina.higgins@signumu.org. In your letter, please address your expertise in F/SF/PC as applicable, and please describe your level of comfort and experience with online teaching. Links to video samples of your teaching style are optional but recommended.

Signum University hires precepting faculty members into a pool for rotating one-term assignments.

Signum University is an equal opportunity employer, and all qualified applicants will receive consideration for employment without regard to race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, disability status, protected veteran status, or any other characteristic protected by law.

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Shadows of Shadows of Ecstasy: An Irresponsible Suggestion about Charles Williams’ First Novel

Here is a tantalizing post from Brenton Dickieson about “Shadows of Ecstasy.” Do have a read!

A Pilgrim in Narnia

With Relief…

I have rarely been as relieved to complete a novel as Shadows of Ecstasy by Charles Williams. I knew very little about it going in, but wanted to read through his seven “supernatural potboilers” over the next year or so. All Hallows Eve and The Place of the Lion were weird, but brilliant, and War in Heaven was a fun Arthurian romp. Williams’ poetry is difficult and often obscure, but it is always beautiful and evocative. Shadows of Ecstasy was painful to read, occasionally confusing, and obviously filled with a kind of meaning that I found far from obvious.

Despite that, I think it is one of Williams’ most important works.

I have not yet read most of Grevel Lindop’s definitive biography of Williams, or Sørina Higgins’ work on Shadows of Ecstasy at the Oddest Inkling. So it is absolutely irresponsible of me to give the conjecture…

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Charles Williams

Here’s an intelligent blog post about two of CW’s novels. Enjoy!

Meg Moseman

C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, the former of whom is quite possibly my favorite author, were part of a Christian writing group at Oxford entitled the Inklings. I am not familiar with all of their work, but I first read Lord of the Rings and Narnia in elementary school, I fell in love with C.S. Lewis’s adult fiction and nonfiction in high school, and in college I discovered Charles Williams–the “oddest inkling,” as described in the title of this great blog about him that I found perhaps a week ago. Here, I’d like to make a few introductory observations about two of Williams’ novels.

First, though: Williams was remarkable, troubled, and troubling (in both the best and the worst ways). Not only do I admire and love his writing, but I believe his charisma has worked on me, across the decades and through the barrier of text, to the point…

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