New CW Book: “The Celian Moment”

TheCelianMomentHere is a guest post by Stephen Barber, publisher and editor of Charles Williams: The Celian Moment and other Essays.

This week sees the publication of a new collection of literary essays by Charles Williams, the first for over fifty years. This collection has a story of its own which is worth telling. Over the years I collected a number of articles by Charles Williams which had not found their way into any of his own books or into The Image of the City, the invaluable collection which Anne Ridler put together in the 1950s. Williams was a prolific – one could even say a compulsive – writer and not everything that he wrote deserves preservation, but I thought my folder contained pieces which those interested in Williams would like to have. They also make much easier reading than his two main critical books, The English Poetic Mind and Reason and Beauty in the Poetic Mind. They are not cobwebbed about with discussion of forgotten writers as in his Poetry at Present, the present being then 1930, and they do not assume an interest Dante, as in The Figure of Beatrice.

Logo-full1I thought about getting them published, but nothing much happened until I set up with my wife, Mary Hoffman, our own small independent publishing house, The Greystones Press. The name was not hard to find: it is the name of our house, which is built of Cotswold stone and is a delicious honey colour and not grey at all. This is our second year and Williams is now conveniently out of copyright, except for a few pieces for which I sought and obtained permissions.

Looking at the collection now I can see a few things which were less clear to me when I was preparing them for publication. Firstly, although Williams wrote novels and occasionally wrote about them, his greatest interest was in poetry and in poetic drama. He thought that reading poetry was good for the soul and he accorded it an almost scriptural respect. I am right to touch on religion, because Williams was a practising Anglican and, unlike most academic critics, he was happy to bring his faith and beliefs into his discussion of literature.

The strange thing is that his most general statement of his beliefs about literature comes in an essay which he did not even sign but ghosted on behalf of Phyllis Jones. She was a colleague at the Oxford University Press, where he worked. She was also the woman he fell in love with when he was already married. Their relationship was never consummated and so was not formally adulterous but it nearly wrecked his marriage and it left him wondering about the significance of idealizing erotic love.

Phyllis also lies behind the second essay, the title essay of the collection. The name comes from a poem by Marvell called The Match. But it is also Williams’s pet for Phyllis Jones. The Celian moment is ‘the moment which contains, almost equally, the actual and the potential; it is perfect within its own limitations of subject or method, and its perfection relates it to greater things.’ It is his version of an idea which was common in modernist circles in the 1920s and 1930s: Ezra Pound’s ‘image’, T. S. Eliot’s objective correlative’ and James Joyce’s ‘epiphany’ are other versions of it. Williams was, in fact, in his maturity, another modernist writer, and he wrote this essay around the time he was writing his Taliessin poems.

He had a strong historical sense. In particular he could see the background of English literature against the classics. He never learned Greek, but like others of his generation he learned some Latin. Like others before him he saw Virgil as a kind of pre-Christian and the Aeneid as describing the formation both of a soul and of a just society, the ideal ancient Rome. The essay on Virgil here he wrote as the introduction to a retelling of Virgil’s Aeneid for the Indian market. It is also rare and the only copy I have ever seen was in the Charles Williams Reference Library in Oxford.

Of course many if not most people fall in love but the greatest writer not only to do so but to make it the mainspring of a great work was Dante. Dante was for Williams the person who made sense of idealizing erotic love and found a way of reconciling it with Christianity and without betraying anybody. The essay on Dante explains how this works. Anne Ridler would have included it in her collection except that she thought it was readily available separately, which it promptly ceased to be. I am very glad to make it available again.

The other essays cover some of his other literary interests: Shakespeare (Henry V), Webster (The Duchess of Malfi), Hopkins, W. B. Yeats and T. S. Eliot. There is also one essay about politics: Hitler had just invaded the Soviet Union which had then suddenly become our ally. Williams reflects on the significance of the Russian revolution for people of his generation. This is not of course a literary subject but it throws such a light on Williams himself – for example his experience of poverty, ‘outside extreme physical pain the worst experience of man: broken hearts are nothing to it’ – and is so little known that I had to include it.

When I last wrote about Williams’s literary criticism I said that he badly needed his books to be properly edited with the references traced and given in footnotes. So when I came to prepare this book I thought I had better follow my own advice. I had an enjoyable time last summer doing this, with the help, mostly, of mother wit, a literary degree, my personal library and Google. There were two I could not find: you can find my failures on pages 12 and 102.

As I was the publisher as well as the editor I could also specify the book design. This is based on the style developed by the brilliant Berthold Wolpe, a Jewish refugee from Nazi Austria who became chief designer for Faber and Faber, where T. S. Eliot published many of Williams’s books.

I do hope others find The Celian Moment and other essays as enjoyable to read as I did to edit it and that you like the cover design.

stephen-300x201— Stephen Barber

Charles Williams: The Celian Moment and other Essays is published by The Greystones Press in the UK. A US edition is under consideration but the book can readily be obtained from the UK branch of Amazon and is also available on Kindle.

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Thesis Theatre event invitation!

signumLogo_100You are invited to attend a “Thesis Theatre” event as part of the Signum Symposia. Join me on Thursday, March 23rd, 9:30 PM EST for a roundtable discussion with three recent Signum thesis grads.

Here are the names of each participant and abstracts of their work:

Kate Neville will present us with a biography of Lúthien Tinúviel, from her 1917 appearance in The Book of Lost Tales, through 1931, when Tolkien’s final notes on the Lay of Leithian declare “Lúthien became mortal.” The story of Beren and Lúthien is called by Tolkien “the chief of the stories of the Silmarillion.” And while Lúthien of the published Silmarillion is arguably one of the most powerful characters in that history, her original incarnation, little Tinúviel, was a very different Elfmaiden. A fuller understanding of the leaf which is Lúthien Tinúviel will deepen our understanding of the tree which is Tolkien’s legendarium.

Cynthia Smith will present us with “The Political Philosophy of J.R.R. Tolkien.” Tolkien had two sides to his personality: one optimistic and one quite pessimistic. Interestingly enough, this ties in very well to classical realism and classical liberalism in political philosophy. Cynthia’s thesis looks at these concepts, how Tolkien’s history and politics tie into them, and how Tolkien’s Catholicism goes a long way into explaining his outlook on the world.

Courtney Petrucci will present us with an investigation into why C.S. Lewis brings humans into Outer Space in order to Recover a Christian worldview during a time of war. She will be exploring Lewis’s science fiction through J.R.R. Tolkien’s Recovery lens, providing a connection between Lewis’s own Christian worldview, the potential of human self-abolition, and Recovering the Cosmic Chain of Being for modern humans.

I will host this oral defense/interview/presentation event, and those of you who attend live can ask the panelists your questions. We will, of course, be recording the event for those of you who can’t attend live. Reserve your seat today and join us for what promises to be a stimulating Signum discussion!

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“One Fantastic Rogue Beast” Live Discussion

Here’s a post on A Pilgrim in Narnia with the video from last week’s Signum Symposium on “Rogue One” and “Fantastic Beasts.” Enjoy!

A Pilgrim in Narnia

one-fantastic-rogue-beast-1-263x263Last Friday night I had the privilege to be part of a unique panel discussion. Signum University hosted an impromptu Signum Symposium called “One Fantastic Rogue Beast.” The discussion featured a team of fantasy bloggers and podcasters who spend their time thinking about the intersection of culture and film.

Sørina Higgins, chair of Literature and Language at SignumU, hosted a discussion of two hot films: Rogue One and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. These are two hot insertions, one into the Star Wars universe and one into the Harry Potter fictional world. We had a great chat, and Sørina signed off after the 90 minutes we had allotted. When she slid away, the rest of us stayed on the software to chat for a bit, thinking that we were now a closed room. Obviously there was more to say as none of us actually agreed to keep talking. It…

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CFP — Mythmoot IV: Invoking Wonder

signumLogo_100The Mythgard Institute at Signum University is happy to announce its fourth conference on Tolkien, Inklings Studies, Imaginative Literature (Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Speculative Fiction), Germanic Philology, and other literary topics. Full details are available here. Mythmoot IV will be held from Thursday, June 1 through Sunday, June 4, 2017, at the National Conference Center in Leesburg, VA. Special guests include Verlyn Flieger and Michael Drout!

Mythmoot is currently accepting proposals for papers, panels, workshops, and creative presentations (storytelling, music, visual arts, etc.). They are specifically looking for proposals on the following topics:

  • Imaginative Literature — Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Speculative Fiction from Mary Shelley and H.P Lovecraft to Ursula Le Guin and Neil Gaiman.
  • Tolkien and Inklings Studies — Research on the works and lives of the Inklings as they interact with each other, their modern context, and classic and imaginative literature.
  • Germanic Philology — Explore relationships between language and literature in the past, present, and future.
  • Anything Else — Academic research or creative presentations that traverse literature in its wondrous variety.

Proposals will be accepted through February 28, 2017. See the complete submission guidelines for more details.

I hope to give a talk about the Inklings as Modernists. Here are my proposed title and abstract:

bad-modernismsReal Modernisms: Revising (Meta)Fictional Modernist Narratives 

In 1997, Brian Richardson’s “Remapping the Present” questioned the standard metanarrative of twentieth-century fiction, which plots a move from realism through modernism to postmodernism. This is a poor model, created by selectivity, marginalizing important authors, works, forms, and developments, ignoring the “radical heterogeneity and ‘untimeliness’ of twentieth-century literary practice” (292). Richardson proposes an alternate narrative, but his is also artificially selective, ignoring actual writing and reading habits. In this talk, I will re-narrate the story of twentieth-century British fiction, examining publication histories, reading behaviors, and measures of novels’ popularity and perceived quality. This approach recontextualizes the “Inklings” as essential contributors to the modernist narrative and puts them in dialogue with their critically-acclaimed High Modernist contemporaries.

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One Fantastic Rogue Beast: Signum Symposium

untitled4Are you a Harry Potter fan? How about Star Wars? Have you seen Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find them and/or Rogue One? Well then, you’ll want to attend an upcoming Symposium in which we’ll be talking, arguing, and bantering about these two movies. What did you love, what did you hate, what were you shocked by? Where do they fit into their worlds? Are they faithful to their texts? How do they work as adaptations? What do they say about our culture?

On Friday, January 6th, at 7 PM ET, I’ll be hosting a roundtable discussion with three Signumites: Katherine Sas, Brenton Dickieson, and Kelly Orazi. The group will discuss the two recent films and touch on wider Harry Potter and Star Wars-related questions while they’re at it.

Have a question you want us to answer or a point you want us to address? Leave it in the comments here or tweet it to @SorinaHiggins.

Register here by clicking on the blue JOIN THIS EVENT button on the left-hand side of your screen.

For those who cannot attend live, the discussion will be recorded and posted on  our Signum Symposia channels on YouTube and iTunes U. You can add the Signum Symposia podcast feed to your favorite podcasting app to download audio-only versions of Signum Symposia.

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2016 in Books

I’m a fan of Goodreads, the site that lets you track your reading and share books recommendations with others. They make a really pretty end-of-year summary of reading.
untitled1I’m always startled by how little I’ve read, mainly because an enormous percentage of my reading is scholarly articles, chapters from books, individual poems and short stories, and selections from larger works, none of which shows up on Goodreads. This year is especially skewed, because even though I read more books than any other year, my non-book reading was even higher. I read thousands of pages of scholarly articles just for one class alone. But anyway, it’s still fun to see how many books I read from cover to cover.

untitled2And there’s something more important going on with these Goodreads end-of-year charts than just personal bragging rights. There’s a message about the enduring power of literature to bring connection and consolation. Check out #YearInBooks on Twitter or any other social media site; you’ll get a sense of excitement, of positivity, and of community with other book lovers. In a year of highly-publicized, widely-mourned celebrity deaths; terrorism around the world; and a divisive, nasty U.S. campaign season, it’s nice to reach back into timeless literature and join those who love sharing ideas through reading.

untitled3There were several communities in which I participated by my reading this year; you can see my full list here. I continued reading works by the Inklings, especially for Doug Anderson’s Signum class The Inklings and Science Fiction. These novels were eye-opening! While some of them (The Worm Orouborous, Voyage to Arcturus) were painfully tedious, others (Last and First MenChildhood’s End!!!!, Rendezvous with Rama!!!!!!!) were revelations.

I tried to keep up with my Charles Williams chronological blog-through and curated the Taliessin Through Logres poem posts, but besides that, my Baylor work rather took over my reading.

Indeed, it did. You can see a big increase in 20th-century Irish works on my list, especially those of Lady Gregory, Yeats, and Joyce, since I took an intensive seminar called “Yeats and Joyce in their Irish Context.” Lots of these were short plays, so they pad out my reading list a bit! But I made up for this with my biggest achievements this semester: reading Ulysses and writing a 421-page “Reading Notebook” about Irish mythology, Yeats, and Joyce. Ulysses is a doozey of a book, isn’t it? How many of you have read it? I really loved it most of the way through, but it doesn’t know when to stop, and Molly’s monologue disgusted me. But still, it’s an important, hilarious, brilliant book, and I hope and plan to teach a course on it soon. untitled4In fact, I’m tentatively planning to teach a class on Tolkien and Joyce. Yes, I know, that seems an unlikely pairing — but they have a surprising amount in comment. Both myth-makers, writers of sprawling works that encompass everything that mattered to them, affirmers of human dignity and importance and love, modernists who were reacting to what they hated in the modern world, great intertextual writers using vast bodies of previous literature as sources, and so on.

There were two other communities I joined with my reading this year. The first was the field I had thought I would do my PhD on: The Canterbury Festival. From 1928 onwards, with breaks for the war and economic difficulties, Canterbury Cathedral has hosted a dramatic festival. I wrote a paper about the first 20 years of this Festival for one of my classes; Charles Williams, T. S. Eliot, and Dorothy Sayers each wrote Canterbury plays (Sayers wrote two of them), and so I was hoping to use my Inklings knowledge as a base from which to work on these plays. However, I think I’ve changed my mind, because the plays just aren’t as good as I’d hoped they would be, because the existing scholarship on the Festival is quite comprehensive, and because it’s frustrating to study plays without seeing them in performance. I tried to arrange for performances of them, but with little success.

And finally, I read Stephen King for the first time. I read The Green Mile and The Stand. WOW. Amazing. What a gifted writer, with such a vast and penetrating vision! I feel very blessed to have his whole body of work yet before me. It’s great to know there are years and years of reading pleasure before me in just that one author’s work.

But The Gunslinger will have to wait for summer vacation. This semester, it’s Shakespeare and Victorian poets!

What did you read this year? What were the most important books for you? What new reading communities did you join?



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Signum’s Christmas Faculty Roundtable

signum-christmas-roundtable-526x526You are invited to attend a chat with two of Signum University’s fine faculty members who will talk about Christmas Mythopoeia. Check out the description, where you can click the big blue “JOIN THIS EVENT” button on the left to RSVP for the live webinar. You can always watch or listen later, and there are various ways to do that.

Here is a description of this excellent event:

ON Thursday, December 22 at 5 pm EST, Signum University Department of Language & Literature Chair Sørina Higgins will be hosting a roundtable discussion with Kris Swank and Dr. Karl Persson with a Christmas theme.

Kris will be talking about her work on the Tolkien family history and literary echoes hidden in Tolkien’s Father Christmas Letters, as well as its resonances with Frank Baum’s “The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus” as another attempt at Santa mythopoeia.

Karl will talk about G. K. Chesterton, the Dickensian mystery of Christmas, the cheerful grotesqueries of holiday cheer, and the way that Christmastide culture wars obscure the haunting mythopoeia of the season.

We hope you can join us for this festive confabulation! For those who cannot attend live, the event will be recorded and posted on  our Signum Sessions channels on YouTube and iTunes U. You can add the Signum Symposia podcast feed to your favorite podcasting app to download audio-only versions of Signum Sessions.

Hope to see you there! 

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Course on C. S. Lewis and Prayer

A while back, I was honored to contribute a tiny amount to a Kickstarter campaign to send Rev. David Beckmann to England to record a class on C. S. Lewis and Prayer. The course is now available to purchase! Check it out here:

C. S. Lewis on Prayer

A study of the book by C. S. Lewis, Letters to Malcolm, in 8 video sessions – filmed in Oxford, England.

Here is Rev. Beckmann’s description of the project:

At the end of his life, in 1963, C. S. Lewis finally wrote a book on prayer. I say “finally,” because he had been thinking about it for many years. Lewis struggled with prayer. He did so, not only intellectually, but also – as we all do – because of the pains and difficulties that he encountered through his life.

Christian trials are always trials of faith and obedience, and we work those things out with God in prayer. If you are a Christian, prayer is critical for your life and walk with God. You sense that you need to learn all you can about it. The best way to do this is to learn from people who have practiced prayer for many years, like C. S. Lewis.

We need different truths at different times. The lessons we can learn about prayer from others will differ from person to person. Lewis had his questions and found his own answers about prayer, and if you have benefitted from his writings about other subjects, you should benefit from Letters to Malcolm as well.

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Descent into Hell: a Masterpiece of Emotion

Here’s a post about “Descent into Hell” by a Barbara Elin, blogging as The LawLass. Check it out!

The Law Lass

If you can get past the somewhat macabre title, you’ll find an uncommonly beautiful story about the power of fear, forgiveness and free will from the mind of Tolkien/ Lewis’s fellow (yet lesser-known) Inkling, Charles Williams. Confession time: I’d never heard of this author until recently, and I only discovered his work through searching ‘Doppelgänger books’ on Google.

But Descent into Hell is so much more than this.

The story centres on the staging of a play by famous dramatist Peter Stanhope at his home town of Battle Hill, just outside of London (though the place itself exists in a mystical, quasi-timeless state of existence). There’s much excitement at the prospect of a local boy turned celebrity returning home, and everyone gets involved in the theatrics of it all. We follow four main characters: Stanhope, Pauline (a woman who is haunted by her Doppelgänger), Wentworth (a lecherous local historian), and…

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Announcing the Charles Williams Library

The Charles Williams Library

Collector’s hardback editions of Charles Williams’ best-loved work.untitled

For too long, Williams’s work has been out of print or only available in budget-level paperbacks.  The Charles Williams library is rectifying this with high-quality, hardbound editions of his work, something suitable for collections and gifts.

Finally: modern, hardback editions of Williams’ most compelling, accessible writing — in handsome editions that are worth collecting and sharing. They’re available now for order:

They have been designed and printed with care: The Williams Library editions are hardbound, with cloth covers and foil stamping and debossing on the covers. Inside, you’ll find modern typography in the best bookmaking tradition. Printed in pure black with bright spot colors, on pure white paper. They’re sized right in the sweet spot: easy in the hand but a respectable presence on the bookshelf. We’ve included generous margins for a comfortable reading experience, and room for exclamations, scribbles and arguments.

The first one, The Place of the Lion, is available now, and you can place pre-orders for War in Heaven next!

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