1931: “The Place of the Lion” summary

The Place of the Lion

The Place of the Lion

I have already posted so much about The Place of the Lion here on this blog that you may wonder why I am writing on it again. After all, I had that 8-post series of guest writers on this novel, and it features heavily in my Readers’ Guide for Beginners. But I’m attempting to go diligently through each of his works in chronological order, providing a summary of the plot, themes, and importance of each, and today we have reached The Place of the Lion, so I’m not going to skip over it! Besides, it may be my favorite of all CW’s works, and it’s the first I ever read, so it occupies a special place in my memory. I wrote about it once before on my old blog about the arts and faith, so some of the material below is recycled.

The Place of the Lion is perhaps the work that most evenly balances CW’s oddity with his greatest appeal. It is weird, very, very weird, but it is also largely comprehensible and filled with startling beauty. It is an “island of joy” for me: a work of art that evokes Sehnsucht and trumpets the heraldry of heaven in my soul’s hearing. How is this so?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFirst, there are passages that are visually gorgeous. There are descriptions of an enormous golden lion, a humongous multi-colored butterfly, a fire that burns in the shape of a phoenix yet does not consume, and a visionary mystic soaring like an eagle.

Second, the events of the book are shocking in a very particular spiritual way; when I first read it, Williams kept smacking me upside the head with philosophical surprises. I know I’m wired strangely: I get my kicks from the appearance of Platonic forms. (OK, I also get kicks from the appearance of, say, Benedict Cumberbatch—but that’s a different story!) When a gigantic lion appeared in the sunset and turned out to be the Platonic form of strength, a shiver of heaven ran through me, lifting me into realms of glory.

Third, the spiritual lesson this book teaches is hard and painful every time I read it, because it is so perfectly relevant to some of my particular sins, but (perhaps therefore) also glorious. Every time I reread it, I am convicted. One of the main characters is a woman trying to be a scholar, and she has turned her studies into a kind of dry idolatry. I do that. So Williams terrifies me.

But what is it about? That is a good question.

On the surface, it is a story of huge, supernatural animals—Lion, Snake, Unicorn, Lamb, Eagle, Butterfly, Horse, Phoenix—roaming about the English countryside, devouring (or “absorbing”) smaller animals of their own kinds. It is a lively, compelling adventure story, as one hero dares to face up to the creatures and command them to go back to their own place and leave the earth alone. Nagini_at_Malfoy_Manor_Dining_TableThere are impressively disgusting villains, including a woman who apparently was possessed by a gigantic snake that rips and tears its way out from inside her body, leaving her corpse a horrific twisted mess (Nagini, anyone?), and a man who seems to transform into a jackal. So that’s cool.

But under the surface, as always with CW, there is another layer. The gigantic Beasts are “Angelicals”: nine Platonic Forms that correspond to the nine orders of angels, and each is also the quintessence of some quality probably about 1475-6or virtue. In turn, there are also the evil opposites of each, in which the virtue is twisted into its evil counterpart. Yet CW never provides a handy list of them, nor does it appear possible to identify every one of these in the narrative. I started trying to make a chart of these once, in a comment on David Dodds’ guest post, but I will make a new one here.

  1. Lion/Angels (strength) — Jackal? Wolf?
  2. Serpent/Archangels (subtlety) — Leviathan? Behemoth? Dinosaur?
  3. Butterfly/Principalities (beauty) —
  4. Horse/Powers (??) —
  5. Eagle/Virtues (balance) — Pterodactyl
  6. Phoenix/Dominions
  7. Lamb/Thrones (innocence) — Wolf? [tiger, after Blake? there is no evidence of this]
  8. Unicorn/Cherubim (speed) —
  9. ????/Seraphim

If you can make any additions or corrections to this list, please do!

Most of Williams’ signature themes are operative in subtle ways in this remarkable novel. The most pronounced is that of the “tranquil mystic.” Anthony, his will submitted to God’s, is the means of earthly salvation, and his fiancée-cousin Damaris becomes (instantly! immediately!) another such surrendered saint after she accepts “the whole gospel—morals and mythology at once.” Romantic Theology works in a different kind of way here, in that the man is the means of salvation for the woman, rather than vice-versa (this would be a marvelous locus for a gender analysis, but pace that!). Order, organization, pattern, affirmation, and negation all feature.

Anyway, there is much more to say, but some of it has been said and some should wait until you read the book. Please do, and then come back and leave a comment here!

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About Sørina Higgins

Sørina Higgins is a writer, English teacher, and Inklings scholar. Sørina serves as Chair of the Department of Language and Literature at Signum University and teaches English at King's College and Lehigh Carbon Community College. She has published two books of poetry, "The Significance of Swans" and "Caduceus."
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48 Responses to 1931: “The Place of the Lion” summary

  1. Ah, a challenge. I will have to reread it and see if I can augment it. I have my doubts!

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  2. michaelhuggins2591 says:

    For any who may not be aware of this, the text is available on the Project Gutenberg – Australia site. I tried several times to copy and paste the link here on my phone, but without success.

    As to the eagle, might it also stand for vigilance?

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    • Chris Bennie says:

      All of Charles Williams novels, including Place of the Lion and some other works, are available in the Adelaide University eBooks@adelaide site (https://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/w/williams/charles/) where they can be read on line or downloaded as a compressed archive, or in epub and kindle formats. I think they are probably from the Project Gutenberg source but they are better formatted and easier to read.

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    • Here’s the Gutenberg link: http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks06/0601441.txt.

      That’s an interesting idea about the eagle. Is there a particular passage you can point to that suggests vigilance? I’d be happy to hear it!

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      • michaelhuggins2591 says:

        >”That’s an interesting idea about the eagle. Is there a particular passage you can point to that suggests vigilance? I’d be happy to hear it!”

        That was merely my uninformed surmise. I think of the high-flying eagle, intently scanning the terrain and focusing on the small detail of prey, from great heights, and it reminds me of vigilance. As to the novel itself, I remembered all too little of it, so I don’t know if my hunch will be confirmed or not, as I read on.

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  3. I too made a (much lazier) attempt at a chart. I still haven’t decided if the fact that it is vague/incomplete is a bug or a feature… In either case, I loved the book.

    It is interesting to read about how the book affects you on the spiritual level. As an atheist I expected to find the theological aspects of CW’s work tedious and annoying (as I do with CSL), but that has not generally been the case. One line in The Place of the Lion made me realize why. When Anthony and Richardson are discussing De Angelis the latter remarks: “if the symbols are there ready why bother to make fresh?” Now, there might be good reasons to bother (I think so), but there is an inclusiveness and humility about this sentiment that is refreshing. The writer from my side of the ideological spectrum that most closely expresses this feeling is probably Carl Sagan.

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    • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

      Dave,

      Sørina writes, “I seem to remember trying to make a chart of these once, but I can’t find it, so I will make a new one here.” One place is in the comments to my guest post here on 2 October 2013, where we also do some more ‘thinking out loud in public’ together on the subject, without thoroughly tackling the “evil opposites”, however.

      Recently, I enjoyed reading Elizabeth Goudge’s novel, The Rosemary Tree (1956) (which precedes The White Witch (1958) in which she acknowledges a debt to Williams’s The Greater Trumps), and wondered if her Cherub and bird imagery there is indebted to The Place of the Lion. (I have not caught up with her autobiography yet, but she seems – to me, at least – generally very ‘Williams- and Inklings-compatible’!).

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      • Thanks, David! I’ve updated this chart a little, but let me know if I’ve missed out other elements, and I’ll add them in again.

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        • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

          Thank you! I’ll try to think it through some more and see if I can find anything to add – and, hope other readers will go on adding suggestions and observations, too!

          It was not the first of the novels I read, and was not one of most biggest favourites in the past, but this trying to think in detail about the “Angelicals” has deepened my enjoyment of, and admiration for, it!

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  4. Stephen Barber says:

    I think it is also my favourite of the novels, though not the one I most admire, which is Descent into hell. It is worth noting that it was through reading The Place of the Lion that C. S Lewis and Williams became friends. You can read their exchange of letters in the Green & Hooper biography, 1974 edition, 136-7. There is also an excellent essay on the book by Abrahamson in Bray & Sturch Charles Williams and his contemporaries, concentrating on the spiritual development (or lack of it) of the characters, and another by Leslie McCoull on the fictional neo-Platonic work Damaris Tighe is supposedly studying. Williams was in fact a Christian Platonist – which may possibly partly explain why the book should appeal to Dave.

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    • michaelhuggins2591 says:

      > it was through reading The Place of the Lion that C. S Lewis and Williams became friends.

      I certainly have no trouble imagining Lewis admiring “Place of the Lion,” but I thought his friendship with Williams began when Williams wrote to congratulate Lewis on “The Allegory of Love.”

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        • michaelhuggins2591 says:

          That was very helpful; thank you for clarifying. I may have read about Lewis praising “Place of the Lion,” but what I remembered was Williams praising Lewis for “Allegory of Love.”

          This will be my second or third reading of “Place of the Lion.” I see from some notes that I read it 8 years ago. I just finished chapter 1, and the episode of trying to move Mr. Berringer brought back memories.

          One of them is rather ridiculous. Stepping out my door years ago and on my way to an exam, at a time when my ex and I shared a duplex with an older couple, I came across the husband, perhaps near the age I am now, much the worse for drink and vainly trying to crawl up the front steps to his door. I joined his wife in trying to get him up the steps, but he must have weighed over 250 pounds and was in no shape to cooperate. I think we really did finally get him inside.

          On a more serious note, some years later, when I was still involved in church and attending services at a “charismatic” congregation, I was in some group prayer session, and another man and I stood quietly by ourselves in a corner, praying together. My arm was around his shoulder.

          Suddenly, with no warning and without a sound from him, he collapsed to the floor. This was not a medical emergency. The man was perhaps in his 40s, a business executive, and in good health. Several of us gathered around him to see what might happen, but over an hour later, he had not “come around.” Finally, we had to pick him up bodily, carry him out to someone’s van, retrieve his car keys from his pocket, and let someone take him home in the van while another person followed, driving his car. He awoke the next morning, apparently normal.

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    • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

      I have not yet caught up with that fascinating-sounding collection, Charles Williams and His Contemporaries (2009)… Are the contents handily listed anywhere online? And does it reprint Dr. Leslie S.B. MacCoull’s ” ‘A Woman Named Damaris’: Pseudo-Dionysius’ Celestial Hierarchy in The Place of the Lion”, as published in The Charles Williams Quarterly, No. 129 (Winter 2008), pp. 10-20, or do you refer to a revised version, or a complementary essay? The issue with that excellent essay is, alas, just beyond those ‘we’ have in the online archive at the Williams Society site… I quote and discuss it a bit in the comments to my guest post on 2 October 2013 here.

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  5. michaelhuggins2591 says:

    Starting chapter 2, I am reminded at once of three things:

    Damaris the dubious scholar reminds me of Jane Studdock who, as “That Hideous Strength” opens, has been struggling with the dissertation with which she hoped to attempt an academic career; her topic is “Donne’s Triumphant Resurrection of the Body,” but her heart isn’t really in it.

    Of course, a little later, we see that Jane’s real insights come from her mystical visions, of Merlin and other matters.

    Lewis and and Williams both appear to be taking the attitude toward female academicians that Johnson took toward female preachers: “A woman preaching is like a dog walking on its hind legs; it is not done well, but you are surprised to see it done at all.” Both seem to find it faintly absurd, which was uncalled for even in their own day; after all, Margaret Schlauch was a contemporary of Lewis, and Helen Gardner was only 10 years younger.

    “Religions and butterflies were necessary hobbies, no doubt, for some people who knew nothing about scholarship” reminds me of a comment from Canon Bernard Iddings Bell, quoted by William F. Buckley, to the effect that religion is tolerated as a harmless pastime preferred by some to golf or canasta.

    The scholar appalled to find herself dragged into a circle of religious people reminds me of the protagonist of A.N. Wilson’s mordant novel “The Wise Virgin,” published around 1993, in which a blind medievalist becomes involved with his secretary, a deeply religious woman, who takes his subject, a medieval “Treatise of Heavenly Love,” much more seriously than he does. If anyone hasn’t read it, I highly recommend it.

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    • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

      Mr. Huggins,

      I am happy to suggest that I think you will find sound counter-evidence to the impression that “Lewis and and Williams both appear to be taking the attitude toward female academicians that Johnson took toward female preachers” not only in other writings (such as Lewis’s letters) but by the end of this novel itself. As to Lewis in the immediate context, I am struck by how his reaction resembles Sørina’s as described above, as when he tells Arthur Greeves (26 Feb 1936) “it shows me (through the heroine) the special sin of abuse of intellect to which all my profession are liable, more clearly than I ever saw it before. I have learned more than I ever knew yet about humility.” Thus he not only sees its general applicability, but takes it to heart. There is a character in one of Barbara Pym’s novels (which I can’t immediately put my finger on) who reminds me of Jane Studdock in (so to put it) her taking her dissertation with her into the next part of her life and not properly getting on with it – in which, alas, I see myself too well!

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      • michaelhuggins2591 says:

        >”I am happy to suggest that I think you will find sound counter-evidence to the impression that “Lewis and and Williams both appear to be taking the attitude toward female academicians that Johnson took toward female preachers” not only in other writings (such as Lewis’s letters) but by the end of this novel itself.”

        Mr. Dodds, I trust that will turn out to be exactly the case. I have read less of the corpus of Lewis’s letters than I have any other part of his output, and as to “Place of the Lion,” I had forgotten practically all of the novel except the lioness, a woman being menaced by a pterodactyl, and a man deliberately running into a sort of supernatural fire at the end. So I am certainly rediscovering as I read.

        >”the special sin of abuse of intellect to which all my profession are liable, more clearly than I ever saw it before.”

        That reminds me of the passage found, I think, in Lewis’s essay “Lilies that Fester,” in which he says something like “It is claimed that culture and the life of the mind make one more sensitive–well, if they mean ‘sensitive to real and imagined affronts,’ they may be right…”

        >”taking her dissertation with her into the next part of her life and not properly getting on with it – in which, alas, I see myself too well!”

        It used to be a standing joke between my ex and me: “I’ll get to that as soon as I finish reading Maimonides,” because the “Great Books Discussion Group” we were in had assigned some large selection of “Guide to the Perplexed.” That was 35 years ago, and I’m afraid I haven’t finished it yet.

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    • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

      As a p.s., I’ve heard it suggested that the character in A.N. Wilson’s novel is to a certain extent ‘modelled on’ Williams (!), but never ventured to ask him about this, when he was active in our Lewis Society…

      I have my own (sometimes wild?) speculations about characters in Williams novels who are related (playfully) to real people without making it a roman-à-clef. Here for instance, is Richardson indebted to Williams’s dear friend (with whom he seems to have enjoyed arguing, as well) Nicholson, I wonder?

      Nicholson wrote what seems distinctly a sort of roman-à-clef, which feature a clergyman named ‘Henry’ (Arthur Hugh Evelyn Lee’s nickname among those friends, though whether after this novel, or the novel after the practice, I know not), as well as characters corresponding to himself and Williams: The Marriage-Craft (1924), which is almost entirely devoted to the characters discussing the possible ‘purposes’ of sex and marriage (!). (And I take it that in naming the young lover ‘Henry Lee’ and his grandfather ‘Aaron’ (i.e., priest, as in Herbert’s poem) in The Greater Trumps, Williams is teasing A.H.E. Lee in a friendly way…)

      Another book that is to a considerable extent a satirical roman-à-clef and which Colman O’Hare makes a case in his dissertation for being an influence on more than one of Williams’s novels is Aleister Crowley’s Moonchild (1929), which I see from Wikipedia is available in transcription online. I remember talkiing about it with John Heath-Stubbs, who found some of it amusing, but I have never yet steeled myself to try it…

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      • michaelhuggins2591 says:

        >”I’ve heard it suggested that the character in A.N. Wilson’s novel is to a certain extent ‘modelled on’ Williams (!)

        I can only say I very seriously doubt any such intent on Wilson’s part. His protagonist is physically blind and spiritually blind. He has grown petulant and embittered over his lack of professional advancement, especially when compared with less-worthy contemporaries. Twice widowed, he is doing a poor job of raising a 13-year-old daughter whose emotional needs he egregiously misunderstands. His subject, a medieval “Treatise of Heavenly Love,” is a work for whose topic he can feel no intrinsic sympathy and only hopes to use to gain advancement and to vindicate his reputation as a scholar against those he feels have neglected or slighted him.

        He engages a failed female doctoral candidate to help him get the manuscript in shape. Becoming dependent on her, he suddenly proposes marriage, and when she agrees, begins to take liberties with her person far too soon. When she, a Christian, takes him to Oxford for the weekend to meet some of her Christian friends, he sullenly refuses to enter into the general conversation. Finally, unknown to him, she “corrects” his carefully prepared manuscript into manifest absurdities, out of a mistaken sense of loyalty to him (and her own limited scholarly judgment) and sends this wreck of a work off to a well-known academic publisher with a defiant note to the effect that it will explode many fallacies. The publishers, shocked at the shoddy quality of the effort from a man they know at least to have considerable ability, send back a vague and equivocal letter, already having decided never to publish it at all.

        I realize I don’t know all that much about Williams, but I can see few points of comparison here.

        But speaking of intended resemblances, I’ve always assumed that Augustus Frost in “That Hideous Strength” was suggested by Freud and that Alfred Jules was meant to stand in for H.G. Wells. I also had to wonder about the use, in “That Hideous Strength,” of the head of Alcasan, the radiologist who is guillotined–I wondered because there is a verse of scripture that says that Anti-Christ sustains a grievous head wound but survives, and I wondered if Lewis had anything like this in mind when he described Alcasan.

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        • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

          Mr. Huggins,

          Thank you for the details! As with Moonchild, I’ve had a copy of this novel for decades without taking the plunge, unsure how disconcerting I would find it… Perhaps it is very specifically the part you summarize as “Becoming dependent on her, he suddenly proposes marriage, and when she agrees, begins to take liberties with her person far too soon”, to which I’ve heard reference. It appeared before Mrs. Hadfield’s shocking revelations about Williams were published in 1983, though after Humphrey Carpenter’s in some respects less shocking ones in The Inklings (1978) and the wider currency he gives there to Lois Lang-Sims’s account of her experiences in A Time to Be Born (1971).

          Lewis deliberately distinguishes Jules from Wells; I don’t think I had heard the Frost/Freud suggestion before, or the Revelation 13:3,13,14 one – interesting!

          By the way, you might find David Bratman’s “The Inklings in Fiction: An Annotated Bibliography” interesting, if you do not already know it:

          home.earthlink.net/~dbratman/infiction.html

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          • michaelhuggins2591 says:

            Mr. Dodds, I highly recommend “Wise Virgin” and think you will find it witty and perceptive.

            >”‘Becoming dependent on her, he suddenly proposes marriage, and when she agrees, begins to take liberties with her person far too soon’”, to which I’ve heard reference. It appeared before Mrs. Hadfield’s shocking revelations about Williams were published in 1983, though after Humphrey Carpenter’s in some respects less shocking ones in The Inklings (1978) and the wider currency he gives there to Lois Lang-Sims’s account of her experiences in A Time to Be Born (1971).”

            I’m not aware of these details, knowing little about Williams’s personal life. I had only read that he had entertained quite an intense emotional, but platonic, attachment to a woman not his wife. Most of my reading of his novels was done between 1999 and 2003; I know I was struck, in one of them, perhaps “War in Heaven,” by a scene in which, if I remember, some young married woman does some frenzied dance in her underclothes. And in “Descent Into Hell,” of course an older man indulges a private obsession with a younger woman and perhaps even causes her doppelganger to come into being, which contributes to his ultimate undoing.

            >”Lewis deliberately distinguishes Jules from Wells”

            Really? I was not aware of that. Did he draw this distinction in one of his letters? As I mentioned, I have read less in the body of his letters than anything else by him.

            I had not heard of Bratman’s annotated bibliography and appreciate your mentioning it.

            To the point you made yesterday about discovering evidence that Williams was not quite so disdainful of female scholars as I might suppose, I’ve read up through chapter 8 and did, indeed, come across a passage in which, although Anthony thought of Damaris as blind and a near-blasphemer, he at least said all this was not specifically her fault and that her intellectual sins were merely a specimen of the sins of “this imbecile century.”

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  6. michaelhuggins2591 says:

    >It is an “island of joy” for me: a work of art that evokes Sehnsucht and trumpets the heraldry of heaven in my soul’s hearing.

    Ms. Higgins, though it isn’t your main topic, I’d be interested to hear your comments or those of any other readers elaborating on sehnsucht.

    As I understand it, it is a feeling of intense longing, even to the extent of a sort of sickening intensity, for what is inexpressibly desirable but presently unattainable–either because it is irretrievably lost or because it cannot, in the nature of the case, be experienced in one’s present circumstances.

    As an example of the first, I can imagine feeling sehnsucht over what might have been with someone with whom one was passionately in love but who died suddenly the night before one would have married that person.

    As an example of the second, I can imagine a religious believer feeling sehnsucht for the otherworldly paradise where he or she hopes to dwell after death. C.S. Lewis seems to have been moved by such a feeling when, as I have read, he would sometimes spot the evening star on a walk and cry out “Perelandra!” in a way that expressed intense longing.

    I find the second kind harder to understand, and that may simply be my own limitation. I know that as I traveled on a bus from York to Edinburgh 30 years ago, the bus passed some grassy meadows sloping steeply upward in the morning sun, and I felt like jumping out the door and running up the grassy slopes with all my energy, rather like the feeling the Pevensies have at the very end of the Narnia books, when Aslan leads them farther up into “the new land” after they have been killed in the train wreck.

    Years later–in fact, just three years ago–I discovered a section of the Appalachian Trail where one could ascend 300 feet up a grassy meadow, with the horizon continually above you. I had the same feeling. It was as if I had died and gone to heaven, and I say that as an atheist with no belief in the afterlife. But the feeling was piercing. As I reached the top of the mountain, over a mile high, I felt a sort of vast, solemn gladness. So far from feeling disappointed that I hadn’t somehow continued on into the sky and been transported into a celestial realm, I simply felt the overwhelming worthiness of being there–I felt seriously what St. Peter seems to have said out of nervousness on the Mount of Transfiguration: “It is good that we are here.”

    Of course that was my own reaction. But my understanding of sehnsucht is that it involves a feeling of present loss and corresponding sadness in the one who experiences it, and I wonder how that is possible. What is being missed?

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    • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

      This might not be a bad place to mention a new edition of a book written in the summer of 1932, less than a year after The Place of the Lion appeared in September 1931 (though several years before the author read it): the recently-published C.S. Lewis’ The Pilgrim’s Regress: The Wade Center Annotated Edition, editor David C. Downing, which is based on a copy with annotations by Lewis, and which sounds like it may shed beneficial light on Lewis’s understanding of Sehnsucht. (There is talk by the editor at the Wade Center site, but I have not listened to it, yet.)

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      • michaelhuggins2591 says:

        >”the recently-published C.S. Lewis’ The Pilgrim’s Regress: The Wade Center Annotated Edition”

        I read “Pilgrim’s Regress” just once, around 1976. I remember the episode when the two friends visited an older man who was supposed to be a sort of wise hermit but was actually rather fatuous. The hero corrected him on some misconceptions, and the older man, irked, said “Yes, young man, no doubt your scholarship is more recent than mine…” That reminded me of an amusing passage I read somewhere about the youthful William Pitt the Younger encountering Gibbon at dinner and apparently making short work of Gibbon’s lack of religious orthodoxy. I thought it was in Macaulay’s biographical essay on Pitt, but I searched it just now and couldn’t find an account of the episode.

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    • Thank you for these thoughts! They are very beautiful.
      As it happens, I wrote a kind of thesis on “Sehnsucht,” and here’s a talk I gave on the topic: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ys4kLCtXvNY.

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      • Chris Bennie says:

        I have have just listened to your Mythgard lecture on The Heraldry of Heaven with great interest and wondered whether you might have a print version of it, (if possible including people’s responses and your examples from literature) for further reflection? I have certainly had experiences of joy coupled with an indescribable longing at various times in my life. Such experiences for me seem often to have been coupled with particular musical works: Masses and motets from Renaissance polyphony (14th to 16th C): e.g. Jean Richafort’s, Requiem; many of the church cantatas of J S Bach. And more recent music: Vaughan Williams, 5th Symphony, Eino-Juhani Rautavaara’s ‘Angel’ series, ‘Angel of Dusk’ , ‘Angel of Light’, ‘Angels and Visitations’. And in works of literature: the revelation by Aslan of himself to the boy, Shasta, in Lewis’s, The Horse and his Boy, which has always connected in my mind with Yahweh’s revelation of himself to Moses in Genesis (not that the boy is a Moses figure). The creation of the cosmos by Illuvator, in The Silmarillion (surely one of the most beautiful creation stories ever: all by means of music: the great song of creation), and in many other places.

        The point I would like to make here is that these particular works, which for me, have led to, or pointed to, experiences, which you and Lewis are describing as(?) Sehnsucht, are not the origin of these feelings: our tastes for, love of, particular music, or works in literature, or great works of art, can and do change over time and may no longer have the same effect on us at a later time. Is it that such works, for us at the time, are pointing to some transcendental object? Is this kind of experience what St Augustine was pointing to when he wrote in his Confessions; “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you”? If we did not feel that restlessness why would we ever seek him out, or is the point that we are not the seekers but God is?

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        • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

          Mr. Bennie,

          For what it is worth, your question “Is it that such works, for us at the time, are pointing to some transcendental object?” in its context makes me think both of Lewis’s discussions of not being able to re-induce the experience at will and of God in terms of the Great Iconoclast (with which may also be compared Williams’s “This also is Thou, neither is this Thou”).

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      • michaelhuggins2591 says:

        Thank you for sharing the link. I have just watched the first 25 minutes or so and read Chris Bennie’s comments about pieces of music that evoke that feeling in him; for me, it would be Vaughan Williams’s “Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis.”

        As a small child, I became transfixed by a somber still life that my parents had bought as a livingroom decoration, and I would stare at it and cry out “The unknown! The unknown, mommy and daddy, the unknown!” I suspect that in my own childlike way, I was beginning to feel a kind of primitive sehsucht.

        I noted your citation from Lewis about looking at faraway hills in Country Antrim and not wishing to be on those hills but *wanting to long for them.* If I am understanding this correctly, it is this that I find incomprehensible and, honestly, a little silly.

        Someone may long for a vanished Arthurian age or for an eternal paradise that one has yet to enter. But the Christian also has the assurance that “In His presence is fullness of joy, and at His right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11). That this immediate experience seems to be available to the Christian in this terrestrial life seems to be attested by the example of Lancelot Andrewes, who wrote that at times, he felt overwhelmed by the Divine presence and was only just short of breaking out into a rapturous frenzy, like the patriarch Abraham, and Br. Lawrence of the Resurrection, in his “Practice of the Presence of God,” who wrote something similar.

        I, necessarily having no belief, as an atheist, that there is “Someone” who is “behind the scenes,” have still found, in my rudimentary attempts at meditation, that there would be times when reality seemed to be pressing on me as though it were a blanket of sweetness so intense that I had to “dial down” the experience. Lewis, on the other hand, seems to have been intent on a longing for something that he not only thought he could not have (at least not now) but actually preferred the longing itself to the putative possession–which, frankly, strikes me as being akin to masochism and, to me, raises more questions about Lewis’s own psyche than anything else.

        But perhaps the resolution to the whole thing lies in the part of your interesting talk that I haven’t listened to yet! 😉

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  7. Thank you for this, Sorina. I really must read ‘The Place of the Lion’ again! And David Dodds, thank you for mentioning Elizabeth Goudge. I read her autobiography a few years ago and consider her an ‘almost-Inkling’. She was in Oxford for some of the same time as the others – I think her father was a canon at Christ Church and so she lived there for a while. She was certainly very tuned into the archetypes and gives one a sense of deep wisdom in her writing. And I hope all is well with you!

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    • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

      Wow! Delightful to meet you again here after all these years! I am glad to have my sense of Elizabeth Goudge so confirmed! I somehow became (was made?) aware of her acknowledgement in The White Witch, and that got me buying anything of hers I encounter second-hand (also in Dutch). Suzannah Rowntree in her post on The Rosemary Tree at her Vintage Novels blog also compares her with Lewis. (She’s a Williams fan and has a Williamsesque novel of her own, Pendragon’s Heir, scheduled for release on 26 March!

      All is (basically) very well with me/us! I look forward to getting acquainted with your blog!

      Like

  8. Chris Bennie says:

    It is interesting how you make the connection of the various archetypes with the 9 Angelic Orders which I had not thought of before. But the thing that always struck me from my earliest readings was concerning the man, Anthony, who appears at the end, as the Archetypal Man, the Adam, who we are told in scripture was created only a little lower than the angels but was given the power to name and therefore rule the animals which he does here and, who in Christ, was made higher than the Angels.

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    • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

      I think you are probably right about the First and Second Adam dimensions (if I may put it that way), but would have to reread carefully to see how this may be accented (if it is). For instance, Baptism is thematic in All Hallows’ Eve, but if Anthony’s being baptized into Christ is a (crucial) element, here, I don’t recall what, if anything, points to this. In any case, it would seem that that baptism would have to be ‘realized’ and/or ‘lived out’ (or however one should say it) for him to ‘name’ as he does. All this also makes me wonder how far Anthony is (as it were) a ‘Galahad-figure’ as Williams develops that (and as Julian Davenant is, in his degree and fashion in War in Heaven).

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  9. michaelhuggins2591 says:

    I have read through the end of chapter 8. It amazes me that, while I could return to the exact place I left off reading Louis Auchincloss’s “Venus in Sparta” in 1982, I remembered almost nothing of “The Place of the Lion” except the general idea, even though I last read it only 7 years ago. I had completely forgotten the scene where Anthony Durrant is attacked by Foster and Miss Wilmot. It reminded me very strongly of the scene near the end of “That Hideous Strength” where the animals are let loose from the menagerie of the institute and invade the banquet and commit mayhem, as well as a somewhat earlier scene where Frost and Wither are overcome by a desire to devour each other and start grappling, at the end of a conference in the office of one of them. It also reminds me of Ransom’s final battle with Weston in the cave on Perelandra, including the part where Ransom is sitting astride his foe, while the psychic remains of Weston mutter imbecilities.

    Finally, it reminds me of a scene near the end of Walker Percy’s last novel, “The Thanatos Syndrome” in which prominent people, left unbalanced by an overabundance of some chemical, perhaps sodium, in their drinking water (a plot that they had abetted as a means of social control) go barking mad. For that matter, there is an interesting scene like that in the political/psychological thriller of a couple of years ago, “East,” with Alexander Skarsgaard, Britt Marling, and Ellen Page.

    Moving backward in the novel, I’m afraid I was underwhelmed by Williams’s concept of the way an engaged couple might relate to each other, as seen in the conversation between Anthony and Damaris. They admit they don’t much like each other, though they profess to love each other; Anthony holds out their eventual marriage as a benefit to Damaris, who might, thereby, attain salvation, to which she replies that she’s not sure salvation is all that useful to her. I thought, “Well, you two are certainly a pair of lovebirds, aren’t you?” Although I’m inclined to be rather sympathetic to Anthony, I’m afraid he struck me in that scene as something of an intolerable prig. If they made a movie of the book, they’d cast Benedict Cumberbatch in that role, I’m sure.

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  10. michaelhuggins2591 says:

    I thought of “The Place of the Lion” a few years ago when I visited the Frederick and Elena Meijer Gallery and Sculpture Garden in Grand Rapids and saw “The American Horse,” a striking 24-foot-high bronze statue of a horse, inspired by an earlier creation of Da Vinci.

    http://www.meijergardens.org/explore/the-american-horse/

    Like

  11. michaelhuggins2591 says:

    Concerning what the eagle symbolizes in the novel, I read the following today in chapter 10:

    “The strength that had once overthrown him had now no power upon him; he was within it, and under the protection of another of the great Ideas, that Wisdom which knew the rest and itself also, the very tradition of the Ideas and the Angelicals being but a feather dropped from its everlasting and effectual wing.”

    This seems to be in the context of his identifying in some way with the eagle, so I am thinking that the eagle is meant to symbolize wisdom supported by strength (as contrasted with the raw power of the lion), and I certainly agree that the pterodactyl would be its antitype.

    The scene in chapter 10 when Anthony comes out onto the stair landing and realizes a great chasm has opened before him reminds me of a plot device in Mark Danielewski’s very strange novel of some years ago, “House of Leaves.” I didn’t finish it, but it made quite an impression on me.

    http://www.amazon.com/House-Leaves-Mark-Z-Danielewski/dp/0375703764/ref=sr_1_fkmr1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1421801830&sr=8-1-fkmr1&keywords=mark+lewandowski+house+of+leaves

    The scene where the little cart horse suddenly becomes a mighty steed commandeered by Anthony is very much like scenes from Mark Helprin’s 1983 novel “A Winter’s Tale.”

    http://www.amazon.com/New-York-Winters-Tale-ebook/dp/B007XA3KUM/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1421802008&sr=1-1&keywords=a+winter%27s+tale&pebp=1421802018026&peasin=B007XA3KUM

    Williams’s priggish disdain for Damaris in the matter of her meeting with a panicked Quentin is beyond belief. It never seems to cross his mind that Quentin’s behavior–pulling at Damaris’s skirt and forcefully dragging her down to lie at close quarters with him in a ditch–must be interpreted by any woman of sense as putting her at risk for rape. I know this book was written 85 years ago, but good grief! I suppose, if anyone ever asked him about this, Williams would have replied that Damaris shouldn’t have been walking abroad unchaperoned.

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    • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

      Mr. Huggins,

      I’ll enter the lists for a joust over the encounter between Damaris and Quentin and its aftermath, in the chapter entitled “The Fugitive”, which your observations sent me to reread and which seems much subtler than I remember – or, more probably, than I ever noticed before. Her “mere amazement” becomes shock, but is soon overcome by “exasperation”, while I am not sure with what mixture of fear, caution, and solicitude he begins, but soon enough it is “with a quick viciousness he snarled at her”, urging her to hide, but “Not here; there’s not room for two” – though solicitude soon wins out! She, however, is soon so “utterly furious” that I see no trace of the reasonable circumspection “any woman of sense” might indeed be exhibiting. And the forceful “dragging” only results as a reaction – not clearly an intentional one – when she, not fearful but “utterly furious”, tries to kick him in the face. Even then, his solicitude keeps prevailing over his terror and sense of self-preservation, though evidently even more for his friend, Anthony’s, sake than her own – until he thinks she has attracted the Lion, and, (with perhaps still a mixture of solicitude in the ambiguous words) saying, “Get away, you bitch!”, flees himself.

      “All her earlier irritations were swallowed up in her furious anger; she wanted to kill” – though not someone she suspects for a possible rapist – “Her acquaintances, her father, Anthony – O, to tear, to trample them.” And it is a few moments later that she sees, far off, “a winged shape”. I wonder if Williams is here hinting at a danger of her, in her ferocity, beginning to assimilate to the pterodactyl as we have seen Mr. Foster and Miss Wilmot assimilating to Lion and Snake in chapter seven? If so, she escapes it in that sense, not cultivating her rage, but finding herself haunted by the memory of Quentin’s face, which somehow seems to be uttering “the phrases with which she was acquainted” and so in a sense identified with their authors, “the early scholastics”, Augustine, Porphyry, Abelard. The chapter began with the narrator telling that “she had found no particular impulse” to teach her “of moral evil and of good” in “her sages”. (Williams here plays with the sixth stanza of “TheTables Turned; An Evening Scene, on the Same Subject” in Wordsworth’s Lyrical Ballads.) Here, she does, hearing them through him.

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      • michaelhuggins2591 says:

        Mr. Dodds, thank you for commenting. It wasn’t until I read your comments that I suddenly remembered that on one level, Damaris reminds me of the woman in Flannery O’Connor’s fine short story, “Greenleaf,” who is gored to death by a bull at the story’s climax.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greenleaf_(short_story)

        In this frame of reference, Damaris’s encounter with Quentin would be analogous to the encounter of the prim Mrs. May with the slovenly Mrs. Greenleaf, when the former comes across the latter wallowing on the ground with newspaper clippings about people with grievous illnesses, with Mrs. Greenleaf wailing and crying aloud “O Jesus, stab me in the heart!” Mrs. May is horrified and half thinks of striking Mrs. Greenleaf in her revulsion.

        You wrote:

        >urging her to hide, but “Not here; there’s not room for two”

        I had forgotten that Quentin’s first suggestion was for her to go elsewhere, not something that would be said by a man intent on rape. It is his later suggestion that they huddle down together and cover themselves with bracken.

        >”the forceful ‘dragging’ only results as a reaction – not clearly an intentional one – when she, not fearful but ‘utterly furious’, tries to kick him in the face.

        But she threatens to kick him in the first place only because he has already grabbed her and she is willing to use force if he won’t let her go. Quentin grabbed her first–moreover, grabbed her skirt, from a position below her, an act that, done by any man for any reason but to pull her out of immediate mortal danger, ought to be considered intolerable and deserving of a forceful response–and she eventually says “If you don’t let me go, I’ll kick you.” A few sentences later, we read “She was struggling and wrestling with the horrible creature, who was grabbing and pulling her farther down into the ditch.” That, for me, fully supports a fear on the part of any reasonable woman that she might be at risk for rape.

        Having said that, I didn’t mean to imply that rape was specifically on Damaris’s mind, though my earlier comment might be interpreted that way. And of course, Quentin thinks he *is* pulling her out of immediate mortal danger–that, and his frenzied state, mitigate the blame for his actions.

        What I meant was that, to any reasonable woman, whether merely reading this episode or experiencing something similar, the circumstance of a man clearly not in his right mind who starts by grabbing at her skirt and progresses to wrestling with her and trying to pull her down into a ditch next to him, ought to be an obvious signal of the woman being at risk for rape, and I can’t tell that this ever crosses Williams’s mind. To take no apparent notice of such an aspect and then to have Anthony, later, not only express no solicitude for her but regard her with near-contempt for her failure to respond adequately to Quentin, strikes me as fatuous. For Williams, the intolerable reek in the book came from the pterydactyl; for me, the real stench was the suggestion–and I really see no other way to understand this passage–but an indifference to the welfare of women on Williams’s part, amounting to contempt, if not full-blown misogyny.

        Having said that, I’m very glad to have reread the book (I have one more chapter to read), since several of its themes and circumstances touched me very deeply. Ms. Higgins had asked about the significance of the eagle, and I was struck by this passage, a day or two ago:

        “above them went the never-resting flight of the Eagle, or, if indeed it rested, then it was at some moment when, soaring into its own dominion, it found a nest exalted beyond human sight in the vast mountains of the creation natural to it, where it might repose and contemplate its aeonian wisdom. There among the Andes and Himalayas of the soul, it sank to rest; thence again, so swiftly it renewed its youth, it swept out, and passing upon its holy business, cast from its wings the darkness which is both mortal night and night of the mind. It knew, since it knew all things, the faint sounds of the lesser world that was more and more passing into the place of the Angelicals, but what to it were those sounds, however full of distress they might be?”

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  12. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    I’m reading Image and Imagination (CUP, 2013) and Lewis’s January 1938 TLS review of a 1937 translation of Leone Ebreo, The Philosophy of Love, gives a glimpse of his knowledge of, and attention to, “angels and intelligences” not so long after he first read The Place of the Lion. This may well have been a constant feature of his annual lecture series eventually summarized in The Discarded Image – he may well have been regularly busy with angels and intelligences – but it is still interesting to have a datable glimpse of something of what he may have brought to the novel on meeting with it. (A sketch of a Lewis angel-reference chronology might be worth someone’s while compiling sometime…)

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  13. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    Rereading chapter IX, “The Fugitive”, got me noticing a bizarre typo which is, for example, in the Eerdmans copy I have to hand, in the Australian Gutenberg transcription and also in the html version in “Roy Glashan’s Library” (linked from the Australian Gutenberg catalogue), and sorting it out also got me wondering what Williams knew about the subject and what his likely immediate source, here, was (and also what, if any degree of general influence was exercised upon him). The typo occurs just before Damaris spots the convenient stile: a sentence begins, “Joyn the Scot had taught […]”. I cannot discover that any “Joyn the Scot” exists, but in any case the first edition text here (p. 135) reads “John the Scot”.

    The reference is surely to “John Scotus Eriugena” – as, for instance, the 1909 Catholic Encyclopedia article about him by William Turner is entitled (as transcribed at New Advent). And the work Damaris refers to is presumably his “De Divisione Naturae”. As we know from his Commonplace Book that Williams sometimes consulted The Catholic Encyclopedia, it always seems to me a convenient reference point – especially when an article includes references to other works, in the text and/or in a list of sources. While most of its references are German, the list with this article also includes “Studies in John the Scot (London, 1900)”. The author is identified only by surname, but Internet Archive has scans of four different copies (all dated 1900 and so apparently all of the same edition). It was published by OUP and the author is Alice Gardner (1854-1927), who, in her “Preface” acknowledges the help she received in correcting proofs “From my brother, Professor Percy Gardner” (another brother was Professor E.A. Gardner: further books by all three may be found there, too). I wonder whether she is in any way intentionally in the background of Damaris, an example from an earlier generation only recently deceased. In the context of, for example, the post about The Rite of the Passion, it is interesting to note that Alice Gardner says that one of the participants in the dialogue, “De Divisione Naturae”, “becomes afraid lest their argument might lead to an identification of the world and God”, but she concludes that John “escapes from any form of materialistic pantheism” (p. 43).

    Another reference among Turner’s sources is “POOLE, Illustrations of the History of Medieval Thought (London, 1884)” and the Internet Archive not only has several scans of copies of this edition but also of the 1920 “Second Edition, Revised”. An summarizing sentence (in the latter), interesting with reference both to The Rite and this novel, is (pp. 60-61) “As all nature is contained in man, so all humanity is contained in the Word of God.”

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  14. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    I hope you will excuse a couple bold interpretive speculations:

    I just read this article and it got me thinking:

    http://www.commentarymagazine.com/article/i-think-that-i-shall-never-see-a-jew-as-lovely-as-a-tree/

    On the way to try see if there was anything in Waite’s Secret Doctrine in Israel (1913: scanned at Internet Archive) on Tu B’Shvat that might support the idea that Palomides’s experience as he “rode through a moon of Spanish winter, / and lay for a night in a ledging of ancient Israel” recounted in ‘The Death of Palomides’ in fact occurred on Tu B’Shvat, and that Williams was using anachronism to bring a 16th-c. Kabbalistic interpretation of it into his Arthurian world, I ran into something else perhaps relevant to The Place of the Lion.

    Consider the account of Noah on p.112 of The Secret Doctrine in Israel – “His intention was to find a cure for the world […]; but he became drunken by laying bare the Divine Essence without having the intellectual strength to fathom it. This is why Scripture says that he was drunken and uncovered within his tent. The meaning is that he raised a corner of the veil concerning that breach of the world which ought always to remain secret.” That made me think of Berringer. Is Berringer a ‘figure’ of the interpretation of Noah which Waite is here recounting?

    This got me finally to try to look up the name ‘Berringer’ – why might Williams have chosen it? I don’t know what Williams may have read of it, and where (a crucial pair of questions!), but these accounts were fascinating (especially together):

    http://www.ancestry.com/name-origin?surname=beringer

    http://surnames.enacademic.com/5801/Berringer

    Consider “composed of the elements berin + ger ‘(warrior) fighting with a spear’ ” and/or “composed of the elements ‘ber(n), bear, with ‘ger, gar’, spear”, and variant forms including ‘Ballinger’, and ‘Belanger’. Who does that remind one of? ‘Balin’ (and, by a stretch, ‘Balan’), and Arthur (as from ‘ar(c)tos’, ‘bear’), perhaps? My speculation is that ‘Berringer’ subtly suggests a connection with Williams’s reading of the Arthurian material as an image of the Fall, with Arthur and especially Balin as ‘Adam’ figures, and Noah read Kabbalistically as another ‘figure’ of Adam into the mix.

    The hints of sexual context in the Waite passage (q.v.) make me wonder about the importance of Anthony and Damaris together (and not as conventional sexual lovers) and the solution possible in the novel (‘figures’ (and instances) of Adam and Eve properly together in ‘The Adam’).

    Might we boldly apply a sentence of Waite’s ripped out of its original context (p. 44, note 2): “At this point the Zohar and the mystical theology of pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite join hands”?

    And what of Palomides? Might we cheekily deploy another quotation or two fom Waite? Such as (p. 144 , note 7) “The Son of David is said to be the Sephira Netzach” and the passage (p. 147) beginning “And as we know that the Christ Who is to come in each one of us […]” (q.v.)? Whether taking place on Tu B’Shvat (with imagery of Fruit of the Sephirotic Tree) or not, this experience as in fact heralding Palomides’s experience of Christ through Iseult on the following day? (Where, in its sequel, in contrast to The Place of the Lion, there is no conscious working together to foster this, with Iseult continuing in her adultery and Palomides’s becoming protractedly ‘Blatant-Beast’ obsessed – a Kabballistic ‘Noah’ figure in his own way?)

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    • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

      After having submitted this, out of the blue a friend (with whom I had discussed none of it) rang up and asked if I had run into any discussion connecting Noah’s Ark, the Round Table and the Grail, and the Shroud of Turin – he thought he had, but could not recall where (!). I haven’t, as far as I know, but it got me thinking – so far, only where Noah and Arthur are concerned. Isn’t Noah presiding peacefully over the Ark full of all the animals somehow like Adam naming them before the Fall – perhaps as a partial restoration? Is Anthony similar to Noah in this, yet going further in warding off destruction? And what of Arthur and the heraldic Table of knights in the poetry, (intended to be) looking further to the Achievement of the Grail? – but followed instead by a sort of ‘improper intoxication’ (so to put it)? But what else does Waite say of Noah? Well, I looked up all the index references, and read around further in context – e.g., the first five pages (107-11) of chapter 8, “The Legend of the Deluge” – which I would recommend, to appreciate its obscure and ‘hinting’ style (!) – and also to see where Waite is summarizing and where explicating. Noah was (p. 109) “predestined from the day of creation to be shut up in the Ark” and “then able to save the world”, but (p. 111) “he prayed for himself only and not for the world”: “The thesis is, however, that, had he chosen, he could have prevailed with God to spare the whole creation.” (To which a footnote adds, “The manner in which he saved the world, as we have seen that he is supposed to do, was wanting therefore in the seals and character of perfection.”) There is also a lot of “mystery of sex” stuff (such as (p. 111), “Noah offered a sacrifice because he represented the male principle which the Holy One united to the Ark, the latter representing the female principle.”) The chapter begins, “The way of human generation had replaced the higher intercourse which is outlined faintly and at a far distance by the Secret Tradition” while the second footnote says, “the Zohar postulates a mystery of spiritual intercourse belonging to the state of Paradise and in the body of our present life a natural intercourse which can be raised into a sacrament of things Divine”.

      Not being sure what all this means, I wonder whether Williams is ‘being Waitean’, or following distinct ideas of his own, set off against Waite’s – both in general, and also specifically in the treatment of Damaris and Anthony and the latter’s ability to ‘deal with’ the Angelicals.

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  15. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    Chapter IX, “The Fugitive”, and The Chapel of the Thorn have been percolating together in my mind on the matter of ‘persuasion’, and more, and less, successful attempts at it, as themes in both. I will hope to try to say something about it, after a bit more brooding…

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  16. Kathie says:

    I love Charles Williams’ writing, I would call the unicorn “Purity” and perhaps the eagle…”Truth”. But, always, I am left after reading his books, wishing I had someone to discuss the story with!
    Kathie

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