Inklings & Arthur on Pilgrim in Narnia

As you probably, Brenton Dickieson has generously opened up his popular blog A Pilgrim in Narnia for guest editor David Llewellyn Dodds to curate a series of guest posts inspired by or responding to The Inklings and King Arthur. Here is a handy list of those posts, with little summaries. I’ll update this as more are added. Please join the lively conversations going on over there in the comments!

“Inklings and Arthur Series Introduction” by David Llewellyn Dodds

As a noted scholar of Charles Williams and particularly the textual editor of an edition of CW’s Arthurian poetry, David Dodds is ideally situated to curate this excellent series on The Inklings and King Arthur. In response to my editorial work in that collection, Dodds has done something similar here, gathering and presenting “a dozen posts from leading and emerging scholars from the fields of medieval and renaissance literature, Arthurian studies, and Inklings studies–as well as poets, writers, artists, and students.” Indeed, this series on A Pilgrim in Narnia makes a lovely companion-piece to the book itself, offering 12 short, lively, accessible blog posts to compliment the 20 rigorous (but hopefully also lively and fascinating) chapters in the book.

“The Argument Continues: Late 20th Century Christian and Pagan Depictions of Arthur and the Grail” by Suzanne Bray

Charles Williams was not the only author of his time to write about the Holy Grail, and Suzanne Bray first puts it into its literary-historical context, then writes about more recent retellings of the Grail story: Bernard Cornwell’s Warlord Trilogy and Stephen Lawhead’s Pendragon Cycle.

“A Personal Reflection on Logres and The Matter of Britain” by Stephen Winter

With insight and pathos, British writer Stephen Winter connects That Hideous Strength to contemporary issues in the U.K. and Europe, ending on a hopeful note. Do share your thoughts about the ability of mythology and fantasy to serve as political prophecy!

“‘The Name is Against Them’: C.S. Lewis and the Problem of Arthur” by Gabriel Schenk

Oxford graduate (and newly-hired faculty member at Signum University, I might add!) Gabriel Schenk offers a blog post that began as a talk given at the Oxford C.S. Lewis Society. He begins with an overview of the various negative connotations the Arthurian legends acquired over the years, which turn off some potential readers. The young C. S. Lewis was among these, disgusted as he was by cheap tourist traps boasting Arthurian connections and disappointed by “Tennyson’s moralistic agenda.” Then Gabriel provides a survey of Lewis’s Arthuriana. This post would serve as a perfect introduction to Brenton Dickieson’s and Charles Huttar’s chapters in The Inklings and King Arthur, as they dig into Lewis’s Arthurian intertextuality in great detail, and to Benjamin Shogren’s chapter on gender and Arthurian names in That Hideous Strength.

Don’t miss the comments thread on this one; there’s a discussion of Donald Trump as an honorary Knight of the Round Table! Gabriel writes: “For some, Trump is a new Pendragon; for others, he’s the new Mordred.”

“An ‘Easy to Read’ Modern Arthurian Epic” by Dale Nelson

I knew when I edited I & A that I would miss some important works contemporary to and in conversation with those by the Inklings. I had never heard of this one before, and it sounds wild and wonderful! Dale surveys Martyn Skinner’s three-part poem, The Return of Arthur: A Poem of the Future, which includes Merlin giving Arthur a tour of hell, where demons use electronic devices, Arthur fights a “collectivist Newtopian” state post-World War Three, a drug-induced seduction scene, and several Grail-inspired conversions. It sounds like a lively trip, and I hope you get a chance to read both the blog post and the poem it introduces.

“Wood-Woses: Tolkien’s Wild Men and the Green Knight” by Ethan Campbell 

This English Professor at The King’s College in New York City teaches a brilliant course: “Tolkien’s Medieval English Sources.” This delightful post briefly covers some of these sources, from Old English poetry to Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, a favorite of Tolkien’s. Then Ethan digs into why JRRT was so drawn to the tale of Gawain’s tests, and finally zooms in on one particular word: “wodwos.” If you want to know what these are, read his post! There’s a lovely paragraph about Narnia, too, with a swift-and-subtle but persuasive defense of Lewis’s gallimaufry slipped in, and a Shakespearean comparison for good measure.

“Inklings and Arthur: An Artist’s Perspective” by Emily Austin

This is the Most Fun Post! It’s Emily’s delightful story of how she found out about the cover contest, had a really brief period of time (while watching the eclipse!) to come up with an idea and submit it, and then won the contest! She also discusses possible inspirations and influences on her work, which is a great insight into the complex workings of an artist’s mind.

“Arthurian Literature and the Old Everyman’s Library” by Dale Nelson

In his second post for this series, Dale introduces “The Everyman’s Library,” a series of cheap, readily-avialable editions of classics that the Inklings grew up on. These affordable books fed and shaped Lewis’ and Tolkien’s taste. Lewis went on, for a time, to collect expensive editions, which he had rebound to match each other, and always retained a love of paper, type, and covers. But it was these inexpensive editions that allowed bookish teenagers early in the 20th century to encounter such great works as the Arthurian texts.

“Filling the Gaps in History: Mythopoesis as Deep Insight” by Charles Huttar

Charles’s chapter in The Inklings and King Arthur is one of the most meticulously researched, covering a vast swathe of Inklings’ poetry to trace occurrences of “the idea of Avalon.” Here, he begins by a brief nod to debates about the historicity of Arthur, then moves into the Inklings’ perspective on mythological history. They wrote, as it were, into the gaps in history, filling those blank spaces with stories of their own. Lewis does this in That Hideous Strength and many other works; Williams does it in his own peculiar way in Descent Into Hell and The Chapel of the Thorn, Huttar shows. Obviously, Tolkien’s whole legendarium is written into the gaps of (pre-)history. This post is magnificent on its own or as an introduction to Yannick Imbert’s chapter in the book, which takes another perspective on the Inklings’ mythological view of history.

“Chesterton, Arthur, and Enchanting England” by J. Cameron Moore

What we have here is a lovely distillation of Cameron’s chapter about Chesterton’s Arthurian poems. Like the Inklings, who were in some ways his heirs, Chesterton had a view of the mythic significance of history–and the historical significance of mythology–that infused his Arthurian poems. He saw England itself as a kind of elfland or fairyland, suffused with spiritual meaning. Read this post first, then Cameron’s chapter, for a long look into GKC’s rhythmically and thematically compelling poems.

“Thor: Ragnarok and C.S. Lewis’ Mythic Passions” by Josiah Peterson

Fights over film adaptations of beloved books can get fierce and nasty. In this post, Josiah both presents some of Lewis’s views on movie adaptations and compares Thor: Ragnarok to the “northerness” that Lewis loved. The Norse myths were dear to his heart, and they were what drew him to his first friend, Arthur Greeves, and also to Tolkien. Here, Josiah speculates what CSL might have thought of the recent Marvel movie.

“Charles Williams’s Arthurian Treasury” by Grevel Lindop

Author of the recent, brilliant, award-winning biography Charles Williams: The Third Inkling gives insights into Charles Williams’s Arthurian Commonplace Book, the earliest of his many lifelong attempts to capture the essence of the Matter of Britain. Williams considered various approaches to his retelling of the myth, and he included church history, occult magic, Celtic mysteries, and many other rich veins of thought. Lindop and John Matthews are working on an edition of all of CW’s Arthurian poems, due out very soon!

“Tiny Fairies: J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Errantry” and Martyn Skinner’s Sir Elfadore and Mabyna” by Dale Nelson

In his third post in the series, Dale turns to elves! Elves and fairies, to be precise. Tolkien and Lewis were disgusted by the degradation of the noble, lofty, terrifying faerie-folk of Medieval romance down to the Puckish miniscules of Michael Drayton. However, Inkling’s contemporary Martyn Skinner wrote a poem called Sir Elfadore and Mabyna, whose fairies are much better. Dale speculates whether Lewis or Tolkien might have read this poem (JRRT: almost certainly not; Lewis: possibly). His analysis includes this great summing-up: “according to Tolkien, the matter of Faërie is a high thing, worthy to be the object of poetic genius and disciplined craftsmanship; but artistic liberty extends to works that include verbal play and the charm of the fanciful.” Numinous elves, silly elves, fatal faeries, flirty fairies; there’s room for all of them in the tradition of English literature.

“C.S. Lewis’ Arthuriad: Survey and Speculation” by Brenton Dickieson

Finally, blog owner and primary author Brenton Dickieson gives a popularized version of his brilliant chapter on Lewis’s intertextuality. As with Cameron Moore’s, I recommend reading this post first, then Brenton’s detailed and ground-breaking chapter in The Inklings and King Arthur. And then keep the conversation going!

At the close of this series, something is even more obvious than it was when The Inklings and King Arthur was published–although I spoke about it even then: We need more books on this subject. We probably need a whole volume on the Inklings and their Arthurian sources. We certainly need one on the Inklings and their Arthurian contemporaries–David Jones, T. S. Eliot, T. H. White, Martyn Skinner, and so many others. We need one on all the other Arthurian themes in the Inklings’ works that we weren’t able to cover in our (already enormous) book. So what do you think? Want to edit one of those?

And meanwhile…. Which of these posts did you like the most? What other topics can you suggested for possible follow-up volumes to The Inklings and King Arthur? Do you have ideas of your own to add?

About Sørina Higgins

Sørina Higgins is Editor-in-Chief of the Signum University Press. She holds a Ph.D. in English from Baylor University. Dr. Higgins is currently co-editing a volume on the ethical turn in speculative fiction with Dr. Brenton Dickieson and previously edited an academic essay collection entitled The Inklings and King Arthur. She is also the author of the blog The Oddest Inkling, devoted to a systematic study of Charles Williams’ works. As a creative writer, Sørina has a volume of short stories, A Handful of Hazelnuts, forthcoming from Signum’s own press. Outside of academia, Sørina enjoys practicing yoga, playing with her cats, cooking, baking, podcasting, gardening, dancing, and ranting about the state of the world.
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2 Responses to Inklings & Arthur on Pilgrim in Narnia

  1. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    Thanks for this! Allow me to second you in saying, “Please join the lively conversations going on over there in the comments!” It is one of the many great delights of both your and Brenton’s blogs that you so kindly leave the comments open for continuing and renewed discussions and updates.


  2. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    By the way, if you toddle over there now you can also read my ‘one over the baker’s dozen’ about the Holy Grail and the Inklings – and update and augment it, as who knows how many of you know more of the relevant details than I do!


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