Here is Post #6 in the Series on Taliessin through Logres! Please visit the INTRODUCTION to this series first, and here is the INDEX to the other posts in the series.
Todays’s post is by Charles Franklyn Beach.
Charles Franklyn Beach teaches literature and writing classes at Nyack College. He first discovered the novels of Charles Williams at a bookstore sale in August 1985, and he eventually worked with those novels on his MA thesis and PhD dissertation at Baylor University. He is also a regular presenter at the New York C. S. Lewis Society, whose members he had not yet convinced to become fans of Williams.
VI. “The Crowning of Arthur”
Arthur has come into his kingdom: “The king stood crowned.” It is a moment of celebration for the people, as “wars were at an end” and “the lords sheathed their swords.” For one moment, at least, Logres is united in peace and harmony, and so many of these knights and lords (who have heraldic coats of arms) have joined the celebrations that “Logres heraldically flaunted the king’s state.”
At this point, Arthur and Lancelot are working together to build the kingdom, as the third stanza suggests:
The king’s friend stood
at the king’s side; Lancelot’s lion
had roared in the pattern the king’s mind cherished,
in charges completing the strategy of Arthur;
the king’s brain working in Lancelot’s blood.
In other words, Lancelot uses his strength and skills according to Arthur’s plan to consolidate the whole land under the king’s rule, and the two men are unified in this work.
From his vantage point above the celebrations, Merlin looks to the distance, where he can perceive St. Sophia, the central church in “beleagured” Byzantium, where “they sang of the dolorous blow”—not only the stroke that pierced the Fisher King’s side, but also the arrival of “the young queen Guinevere,” who is revealed “in the midst of [her] bloom” as a “sweetness of body.” It is Lancelot who descends to her, kneels to her, and then escorts her into the king’s presence. As the king’s friend, and united in purpose with the king, Lancelot serves as an image of Arthur, but as with every image there exists the danger of forgetting the reality to which it points. Even at this moment, when he beholds his new wife, Arthur questions whether “the king [is] made for the kingdom, or the kingdom for the king?” Doubt has begun to creep into Camelot even as Arthur’s reign begins. It will not be long before Guinevere fails to see Arthur in Lancelot and only sees Lancelot himself, and they begin their selfish love which tears apart the fabric of the kingdom Lancelot and Arthur sought to build together.
Merlin sees all the patterns of his world—Broceliande, Logres, and the designs of the Logos (Christ) in creation. But he also sees the knights with their images on display, as the Round Table is assembled in this celebration. The first knight is Lancelot, associated with the lion. Then comes virtuous Percivale, whose image is a bright circle of deep blue flame. The colors black, silver, and red, along with the image of a moon, are those of Lamorack, who attracts the attention of Arthur’s sister Morgause, and their subsequent relationship is disturbing and violent, ultimately leading Morgause’s sons to slay their fellow knight treacherously. The laughing, mocking Dinadan’s image is the playful dolphin; Bors, who will become associated with the Sangraal, bears on his shield a pelican, which medievals viewed as an image of Christ.
Taliessin witnesses all of this celebration from ground level, and for him the images on the knight’s shields lack the mythical meaning Merlin observes from above. Thus, after he witnesses Lancelot greeting Guinevere, he senses “doom” and sees “a god lie in his tomb.” It is not clear who this “god” is, though it may be that Taliessin has a first vision of the death of Arthur, the death of the kingdom. Meanwhile, the “spark” of the ideals which Arthur seeks to create in Logres both glows and fades, the regular prayers of the Pope continue in Rome, and the songs in St. Sophia are replaced by “a hollow call,” perhaps as the Empire begins to crumble under the internal and external threats it faces.