I will be spending the weekend of Dec 13-15 at this lovely little Tolkien conference/party: Mythgard’s Mythmoot II. Should be amazing! Here is a summary of the paper I’m scheduled to give (which is the seed of my proposed book on The Inklings and King Arthur. Check it out.
King Arthur Was an Elf!
An Imaginary, Composite, Inklings Arthuriad
The recent publication of The Fall of Arthur, an unfinished poem by J.R.R. Tolkien, revealed a startling, previously-unknown aspect of Tolkien’s legendarium. The key is found in notes Tolkien left about how he intended the fragmentary Fall of Arthur to continue (included in Christopher Tolkien’s editorial matter). In the final confrontation, Mordred would fatally wound Arthur, Arthur would kill Mordred, and Arthur would be carried away to the West for healing. Lancelot, arriving too late, would set sail into the West, searching for his king, never to return.
In other words, Lancelot is Eärendel. He sails into the West, seeking a lost paradise: Avalon, Tol Eressëa, or the Land of Faery. If Tolkien had finished this poem, he could have woven it together with The Silmarillion so that his elvish history mapped onto the legends of Arthur, forming the mythological and linguistic foundation on which “real” English history and language were based. In addition, he could have collaborated with Lewis and Williams on their Arthurian legends, creating a totalizing myth greater than any they wrote individually.
This paper, then, examines the theological, literary, historical and linguistic implications of an imaginary, composite, Inklings Arthuriad by comparing the Arthurian geography and characters of The Fall of Arthur, The Silmarillion, and The Lord of the Rings with “Lancelot,” Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength by C.S. Lewis and Taliessin Through Logres and The Region of the Summer Stars by Charles Williams.
In all three writers’ worlds, evil is in the East; this is not surprising in an England threatened by Nazi Germany. God’s country is in the opposite direction, across the sea, connected with ancient legends about Hesperus, the evening star, Venus, the light in the West.
In all three writers’ worlds, heroic characters achieve a great quest and leave this earthly realm for a heavenly one, attaining a spiritual fulfillment that has both historical and personal implications for England and for the individual Christian.
If Tolkien had finished The Fall of Arthur and if the Inklings had put all their Arthurian ideas together, they could have produced the kind of totalizing English mythology that Tolkien attempted, but abandoned. But he did not, so this paper also considers why he stopped, and what the theoretical pitfalls are of examining a work of literature that does not exist.