Signum Symposium on Charles Williams

signumLogo_100This coming Thursday, June 15th, at 4:00 EST, I will be interviewed by Dr. Karl Persson for an episode of the Signum Symposia series. I’ll be talking about my work on Charles Williams — about Chapel of the Thorn, the intro to the new Apocryphile edition of Taliessin, and maybe even about The Inklings and King Arthur. You can get more info and then register here to attend. This event is fully online, so you can watch or listen from anywhere. You can even call in on your phone and just listen if you’re driving, walking, jogging, or whatever. And it’s free — although we would love it if you would consider making a donation to Signum University to help support these events.

Here is the official event description from the Signum website:

In the seventy-two years since the death of Charles Williams – poet, novelist, editor, member of the Inklings, Anglican Christian, and occult master magician – his fame has waxed and waned. His reputation, never huge except among a small but dedicated cult following for his seven “metaphysical thriller” novels, has been hindered by the layers of obscure references in his works, the uneasy cohabitation of occultism and mystical Christianity, and some restrictions placed on his literary estate. However, this second decade of the twentieth century has seen a resurgence of interest in and availability of works by and about “The Oddest Inkling.” His official biography, a brilliant, comprehensive, and lucid study by Grevel Lindop, was published by Oxford University Press in 2015. His works have entered the public domain in the U.K. Beautiful new editions of his novels have been released.

Sørina Higgins has been involved in the publication of two of Williams’ works. The first is an edition of The Chapel of the Thorn (a play written by Williams in 1912 and published in 2012 with intro and notes by Higgins, a preface by Grevel Lindon, and an essay by David Llewellyn Dodds. The second is and a new edition of Taliessin Through Logres (Williams’s 1938 collection of Arthurian poems) with an intro by Higgins. A third important work is forthcoming: an essay collection edited by Sørina Higgins entitled The Inklings and King Arthur.

Sørina Higgins and guest host Karl Persson will talk about these three works and other topics of interest related to Charles Williams, and will be delighted to answer audience members’ questions about this odd, magical, mystical writer.

Hope you can be there!

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Mythopoeic Society Nomination!

I received a delightful email this week beginning “I am very pleased to inform you that your publication, The Chapel of the Thorn edition, has been selected as a finalist for the 2017 Mythopoeic Scholarship Award for Inklings Studies.” The Mythopoeic Awards are probably the most prestigious prizes in the fields of Inklings scholarship, and take a look at this amazing list!

2017 Mythopoeic Awards Finalists Announced

What an enormous honor, pleasure, and surprise it is for Chapel of the Thorn to be listed next to these heavy-hitters:

  • Christopher Tolkien, ed. Beowulf: A Translation and Commentary, together with Sellic Spell by J.R.R. Tolkien (Houghton Mifflin, 2014)
  • Philip Zaleski and Carol Zaleski, The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Owen Barfield, Charles Williams (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2015)

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Anyway, I won’t be able to go to Mythcon this year, but I hope you can, and may the best book win!

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Wonder Invoked (aka Mythmoot Grows Up)

Mythmoot-IV-banner-1024x358Wonder, awe, amazement, curiosity, yearning, longing, joy, sehnsucht — these permeate the literature that has shaped my mind and determined much of my life. I wrote my Master’s Thesis on “The Heraldry of Heaven,” as C. S. Lewis called one particular form of romantic, spiritual desire; you can see me talk about it here:

Wonder infuses ancient myths and modern fantasy novels, moments of magic in Shakespeare’s plays and modernist poetry, the most lofty epics and the cheapest science fiction. The characters in the books may be filled with wonder, or the reader may be uplifted onto heights of awe while reading.

“Invoking Wonder” was the theme of Signum University‘s conference, Mythmoot IV, last weekend in Virginia, and the conference certainly lived up to its theme. What’s more, I believe that Mythmoot has now taken its place among the best academic conferences on the Inklings, speculative fiction, fantasy literature, myth, and science fiction. Those of you who work in these areas should now add Mythmoot to your regular conference circuit along with the Frances White Ewbank Colloquium on C.S. Lewis & Friends at Taylor University in Indiana and, of course, Mythcon.

signumLogo_100Everything about Mythmoot was excellent, but here are the academic high points from my perspective. I’ll post links to YouTube videos later as they become available.

  • The “VIP Panel” on “Invoking Wonder” featuring John DiBartoloDr. Michael Drout, Dr. Verlyn Flieger, Ted Nasmith, and Dr. Corey Olsen, which I had the honor of moderating. Here’s the video: a dry, alienating discussion of imaginative techniques in literature and of the history of the word wundor and blah blah blah. Apparently I forgot who my panelists were! Before we got halfway down the line on the first question (“What is your earliest memory of being filled with wonder?”), at least one panelist and more than one audience member had tears in their eyes, moved by the powerful reality of awe. They talked about which books, music, conversations, or works of art affected them as children and since then. We discussed whether wonder can be taught, by teachers or parents. We talked about the mysteries of nature, whether reality or fantasy is more moving. We argued whether curiosity is the same as wonder, or leads to it, and whether wonder is a specifically spiritual, even mystical, experience. It was a great privilege to talk with these great scholars and artists, and even more special to share some of the deep feelings of their hearts.
  • Dr. Michael Drout’s
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    photo by Laura Lee Smith

    keynote talk “‘A Lesser Son of Great Sires’: On being a Philologist in the Twenty-first Century.” Mike spoke with great aplomb and hilarity about the very serious subject of the decline of philology as an academic field of study over the past century. This decline is partly due to the unfortunate (perceived) entanglement of philology with Nazism, but also arguably due to the rigor of the subject. Mike led us on a romp through the history of the field as it was in Tolkien’s day through the middle and end of the twentieth century to where it is today: hardly a philologist is to be seen on the faculty of any English departments these days. (As a side note, Signum has several philologists on faculty and is adding more!) Then he applied his own considerable philological skills to a close reading of a textual crux in Beowulf, and all while keeping us roaring with laughter, and all before 10:00 in the morning. I also enjoyed several good conversations throughout the weekend; thanks, Mike! Here is the video of Mike’s awesome talk:

  • Dr. Verlyn Flieger’s
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    photo by Laura Lee Smith

    keynote talk “The Eye of the Beholder.” This was a detailed, close-reading, inspiring examination of one technique Tolkien uses to invoke wonder in the reader. Verlyn called it “rebound,” after a pool technique wherein the player hits another ball such that it then hits the one s/he wants to move. In writing, the author doesn’t have the narrator describe an event directly. Instead, a character’s response to the event is described such that the reader can inhabit the character’s thoughts and feelings during the event — and then experience the event through the character rather than through narrative description. Dr. Flieger used several powerful examples of this technique in The Lord of the Rings, including when Sam views the dead Southron, and when Gimli describes the Glittering Caves of Aglarond to Legolas. If I were to sum up her talk, I’d say that these lines from Hopkins do it best:

    These things, these things were here and but the beholder
    Wanting; which two when they once meet,
    The heart rears wings bold and bolder
    And hurls for him, O half hurls earth for him off under his feet.

    Part of her argument was that wonder does not reside in the object or event itself, but in the response of the reader, viewer, listener, etc. There’s a strong Barfieldian influence present in this concept, as well as the idea from Hopkins. I found her talk so moving that it was operating as a double rebound on me! Watch Verlyn’s wonderful keynote here:

  • I also enjoyed giving a keynote talk myself, and was pleased by how well it fit the sequence of plenaries. I called it (most pretentiously) “Real Modernisms: Revising (Meta)Fictional Modernist Narratives,”
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    photo by James Madsen

    and what Mike Drout did for philology, I tried to do for modernism. I talked about the state-of-play in modernist studies, how it’s changing to include previously marginalized voices, including mass market genres that have previously been snubbed. This opens up opportunities for Inklings scholars to put their beloved authors into fruitful dialogue with “high modernist” writers–which I began to do. I also argued that “the Inklings” do not exist as a closed, fixed group, but that they were a fluid network of connections and associations.

  • Finally, I had the very great joy of chairing two Thesis Panels filled with members of Signum University’s first graduating class, and of helping to officiate at the first-ever Signum Graduation! I am so very proud of our first 11 graduates and their excellent research. We had two panels, and topics included Tolkien and women, Lewis and the Great Chain of Being, Gothic literature and modern fantasy, Doctor Who and fairy tale, Tolkien’s politics, and a praxeological approach to literature. The graduation was a perfect expression of those things that make Signum unique — or “weird on purpose” — such as a hand-forged spear called Aiglos, a chanting of a Mythgard-specific “Tra-la-la-lally,” home-brewed Northern Courage, live-streaming online with participants around the glove, diplomas available in Latin or Quenya upon request, a lovely “Quest” speech by Dr. Flieger, and a few tears on the part of Corey Olsen and some of the grads. Congrats to our first graduating class! grad.pngThose, then, were the academic highlights for me. I’m sure there were others, as I did not get to attend all the papers or presentations. But in addition to the important academic achievements of all present, there were the unforgettable conversations and social times — most notably, the Masquerade Ball and the dancing! Lots and lots of dancing. I thought I had died and gone to heaven. I got to teach Marie’s Wedding, The Virginia Reel, and Foxtrot with the intrepid Corey Olsen for my dance partner. And then we danced a tango demo. Only don’t call it a tango. I’m of Swedish extraction; Corey is Norwegian.
  • Q: What do you call it when two Viking literary scholars dance? 
    A: A tanglo-saxon!

    (watch our fairly shabby but fun tango here)

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King Arthur shall return!

fundedThanks to an awesome group of 29 supporters, my GoFundMe campaign to raise money for permissions fees for The Inklings and King Arthur was fully funded, and then a stretch goal reached, within three days! I am awed and blessed by these 29 kind souls who gave of their resources to help bring this book into print. You can visit https://www.gofundme.com/fund-king-arthurs-return to read a description of the book or see who contributed. I am especially grateful to the established scholars whose donations are a very great encouragement.

Further up and further in!

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Fund King Arthur’s Return!

Charles_Ernest_Butler_-_King_ArthurDear readers of The Oddest Inkling:

As you know, in 2013, a previously-unpublished work by J.R.R. Tolkien appeared: The Fall of Arthur, his only explicitly Arthurian writing.  The publication of this extraordinary poem revealed subtle connections between “The Matter of Britain” and the rest of JRRT’s legendarium, and thus invited an examination of the theological, literary, historical, and linguistic implications of the Arthurian writings of all the major Inklings: C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, Charles Williams, and Owen Barfield. It became immediately obvious that a scholarly study of these works was necessary.

The book I have been editing for four years, The Inklings and King Arthur, fills that gap. It is an edited essay collection that examines the Arthurian works of Tolkien, Lewis, Williams, Barfield, their predecessors, and their contemporaries. It offers exciting, rigorous analytical perspectives on a wide range of the Inklings’ Arthurian and related works, contributing essential material to the academic field.

gofundmeThe Inklings and King Arthur is ready for publication, but permissions fees must be paid to the copyright holders of the works quoted in the collection. While the estates and publishers have been extremely generous and considerate, charging only small fees, they are still beyond my personal resources or those of my publisher. If you would like to see this book in print, please consider contributing to my GoFundMe campaign. Your donation will enable us to pay the permissions fees and move toward publication. Help bring back King Arthur!

This book brings together established, well-known scholars and emerging voices. It employs many theoretical perspectives and interacts with a wide variety of important conversations. To give you a taste of the intellectual delights of this volume, here is the table of contents of The Inklings and King Arthur:

Introduction—Present and Past: The Inklings and King Arthur. Sørina Higgins
1. The Matter of Logres: Arthuriana and the Inklings. Sørina Higgins
2. Medieval Arthurian Sources for the Inklings: An Overview. Holly Ordway.
3. Mixed Metaphors and Hyperlinked Worlds: A Study of Intertextuality in C. S. Lewis’s Ransom Cycle. Brenton D. G. Dickieson.
4. Houses of Healing: The Idea of Avalon in Inklings Fiction and Poetry. Charles A. Huttar
5. Shape and Direction: Human Consciousness in the Inklings’ Mythological Geographies. Christopher Gaertner
6. From Myth to History and Back Again: Inklings Arthuriana in Historical Context. Yannick Imbert
7. “All Men Live by Tales”: Chesterton’s Arthurian Poems. J. Cameron Moore.
8. The Elegiac Fantasy of Past Christendom in J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Fall of Arthur. Cory Grewell
9. Spiritual Quest in a Scientific Age. Jason Jewell and Chris Butynskyi
10. The Stripped Banner: Reading The Fall of Arthur as a Post-World War I Text. Taylor Driggers
11. “Lilacs Out of the Dead Land”: Narnia, The Waste Land, and the World Wars. Jon Hooper
12. “What Does the Line along the Rivers Define?”: Charles Williams’s Arthuriad and the Rhetoric of Empire. Benjamin D. Utter
13. “Fair as Fay-woman and Fell-minded”: Tolkien’s Guinever. Alyssa House-Thomas
14. Beatrice and Byzantium: Sex and the City in the Arthurian Works of Charles Williams. Andrew Rasmussen.
15. Those Kings of Lewis’s Logres: Arthurian Figures as Lewisian Genders in That Hideous Strength. Benjamin Shogren.
16. “Servant of All”: Arthurian Peregrinations in George MacDonald. Kirstin Jeffrey Johnson.
17. Camelot Incarnate: Arthurian Vision in the Early Plays of Charles Williams. Bradley Wells
18. “Any Chalice of Consecrated Wine”: The Significance of the Holy Grail in Charles Williams’s War in Heaven. Suzanne Bray.
19. The Acts of Unity: The Eucharistic Theology of Charles Williams’s Arthurian Poetry. Andrew C. Stout
Conclusion—Once and Future: The Inklings, Arthur, and Prophetic Insight. Malcolm Guite.

Please consider funding “The Inklings and King Arthur” today! Click here to contribute to the GoFundMe for this project.

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Call for Book Reviewers — Journal of SF

I recently received the following message from The Journal of Science Fiction:

The Journal of Science Fiction currently seeks reviewers for books we receive from publishers. We are looking for reviewers to write objective, academic book reviews rather than the more casual book reviews commonly found on Goodreads, Amazon, and other venues. If you would like to submit a book review, please consult the book reviews we published in Volume 1, Issue 3 of our journal (http://publish.lib.umd.edu/scifi/article/view/361) or these sites to better understand what we’re looking for:
We currently have the following titles available for review:
  • The Berlin Project (by Gregory Benford).
  • Codex Orféo: A Novel (by Michael Charles Tobias).
  • Europa’s Lost Expedition: A Scientific Novel (by Michael Carroll).
  • The Hunt for FOXP5: A Genomic Mystery Novel (by Wallace Kaufman and David Deamer).
  • Murder on the Einstein Express and Other Stories (by Harun Siljak).
  • Science Fiction and Futurism: Their Terms and Ideas (by Ace Pilkington).
  • Science Fiction by Scientists: An Anthology of Short Stories (ed. by Michael Brotherton).
  • Speculative Blackness: The Future of Race in Science Fiction (by André M. Carrington).
  • Using Medicine in Science Fiction: The SF Writer’s Guide to Human Biology (by H.G. Stratmann).
To request a book for review, or if you have any questions about the book review process for the Journal of Science Fiction, please contact Monica Louzon (Managing Editor) at monica.louzon@museumofsciencefiction.org.
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New Review of “Chapel of the Thorn”

I invite you to check out this new review of The Chapel of the Thorn, by Steve Hayes. I also recommend that you read the comments on the post — and join the conversation, if you’ve a mind to.

If you have read Chapel, it would be great if you would consider reviewing it on your blog or on Amazon, goodreads, etc.

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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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