I have to wonder if Darrar-Shannon was basically bluffing -- but her threat was sufficient to lead to the book's suppression. Perhaps an interesting item for the few who got a copy before the boom was lowered. However, a very readable translation of the saga is easily got -- in fact I think there are two, one in Oxford World's Classics and one in Penguin Classics.
Speaking of the saga-world, House-Thomas suggests there are some parallels between Tolkien's Guinever and deadly women in the Saga of the Volsungs -- her self-centeredness, the destruction that comes about through it, etc.
Looking ahead -- I think after finishing House-Thomas's essay, I'll put side The Fall of Arthur for a bit and turn to Charles Williams's Grail (he spells it Graal) thriller, War in Heaven, which gets in essay in IKA.
The title has no very obvious relevance to the story. I can say that, having read the book several times. It begins in a small London publisher's office where a corpse is about to be found under a desk.
Indications of Tolkien's relations with Williams may be found in Tolkien's letters, Humphrey Carpenter's The Inklings, etc. Tolkien could sound like an admirer and could sound like someone who felt a considerable antipathy to Williams.
House-Thomas concludes that Guinever, in The Fall of Arthur, is one of three complex women characters in Tolkien's writing to receive treatment (the others being Erendis -- the "Mariner's Wife" -- see Unfinished Tales -- and Galadriel). House-Thomas regards Guinever as partaking, on the one hand, of Celtic elements (leaning pretty hard on "fair as fay-woman" to link her with Morgan le Fay, who is absent from Tolkien's poem), and, on the other, with "Germanic traditions of gold and greed, ferocity and fame, and tough-minded, pragmatic struggle for self-determination in a doomed world" -- emphasizing the poem's "fell-minded."
I'm going to be turning to Charles Williams's thriller War in Heaven soon, to line up with the IKA essay on it.
Here's a partial account of War in Heaven from Sørina Higgins's Oddest Inkling blog to quicken your appetite for it:
The story opens in a publishing house with the discovery of a body. The murder‐interest is soon supplanted by an astonishing revelation: the Holy Graal resides in the quiet country parish of the unlikely hero, a dapper Anglican archdeacon named Julian Davenant. Soon the murderer hires a thug to whack the Archdeacon on the head and steal the Graal. Mr. Davenant calmly steals it back, gathering allies and enemies for a brief chase across the countryside into London. Meanwhile (besides using the Graal for a black mass and for spiritual domination), the villain has a side plan: the ravishing of a child’s soul. While apparently safe in the home of a Roman Catholic Duke, the Graal suffers a metaphysical attack ....(etc.)
Prof. Higgins commented, "What’s fascinating about this story is that it is a combination of two genres: the murder mystery and the Grail Quest. Williams was not bound by generic conventions; like every great writer, he could develop, evolve, and defy a genre’s history when he liked. So this novel opens like a standard 1930s murder mystery (in fact, it feels very like Dorothy Sayer’s Murder Must Advertise...), but soon dashes off in entirely unexpected directions. Yet the more important point is the ways in which [War in Heaven] uses the two genres to transform one another," etc.
However, I propose to discuss War in Heaven here, in connection with Suzanne Bray's essay in IKA. Bythe way, Chrons' own Teresa Edgerton said, "War in Heaven is spooky and wonderful. I do love the way Williams can blend the mystical and the mundane, the infernal and the ordinary."
The Charles Williams Society sponsored a competition over 20 years ago:
"CW's books mention many fictitious works, such as Sir Giles Tumulty's HISTORICAL VESTIGES OF SACRED VESSELS IN FOLKLORE, or Peter Stanhope's A PASTORAL. You are invited to submit a review of any one of these, not more than 100 words...."
I didn't win the competition, but here's what I sent, as a review of that same villain Tumulty's HISTORICAL VESTIGES OF SACRED VESSELS IN FOLKLORE:
"Students of ethnography and ecclesiastical architecture have long needed an account of surviving pre-Conquest liturgical vessels. They will not find it in this tendentious monograph. The author has prosecuted his researches with a 'zeal not according to knowledge,' his preoccupation with 'occult energies' supposedly resident in such reliquiae and his reading of the Arthurian romances as sober history persistently distorting his findings. Moreover, his sources are largely works in his own library, some of which are treasures rightfully belonging to the nation, others mere trash. His audience will be collectors of curiosa and admirers of Mr. Aleister Crowley.
"M. R. JAMES."
The portrait is that of M. R. James, of course, not the nasty Sir Giles. Bad as he is, by the way, War in Heaven's chief villain is someone else -- so the novel has a twofer in the villain department.
Couldn't wait to start reading War in Heaven again (first read Sept. 1976; this will be my 7th reading). I'm thinking some of the same people who've done the Endeavour mystery series might be able to do a nice job of dramatizing this for TV. I'm often wary of such adaptations, but this book might work well thus. But it absolutely must be done as an authentic period piece if it's ever done, so early 1930s. Lots of excitement, good opportunities for photogenic locales in London and the countryside, a fair amount of humor and snappy dialogue, some domestic drama, and some moments of real horror.
The Inklings and King Arthur includes Suzanne Bray's "'Any Chalice of Consecrated Wine': The Significance of the Holy Grail in Charles Williams's War in Heaven." As I begin it, I appreciate its freedom from academic cant and verbosity.
However, I'm wondering about her statement that Charles Williams was personally acquainted with Arthur Machen. I'll look into this some more, but I can report that there is no index reference to Machen in Grevel Lindop's recent biography of CW nor in Alice Mary Hadfield's two earlier books on Williams.
I'm puzzled by Dr. Bray's reference to Machen's The Secret Glory as being Machen's "best-known work"! Machen is much better known, I'm sure, for "The Great God Pan," "The Black Seal," and "The White People," repeatedly anthologized horror stories. The Secret Glory is the second of Machen's three novels, with The Hill of Dreams, his first and best-known, and The Green Round, his third, and my own personal favorite of the three by a long throw.
I don't much like The Secret Glory, by the way. I recall it as indulging far too much in self-pity and self-pleasing fantasy. In the 1920s, Machen's publisher released Precious Balms, a collection of negative reviews of Machen's works (yes, that's right).
Punch revealed that the Secret Glory is that of the Holy Grail, “revealed in a Welsh farmhouse to the boy Ambrose Meyrick and his father.” The mystically-initiated boy “is sent to an exquisitely odious public school, where he becomes first a cowed and isolated dreamer and last a furtive and malicious rebel.” Ambrose runs off with “a sympathetic parlour-maid” after Machen has gratified his “savage humour” against the public school system. Unfortunately Machen never really comes to grips with the targets he satirizes. The Evening Standard found the book “incoherent and tiresome” since schoolboys and mysticism “do not mix.”
The Manchester Guardian mentioned the “escapade” in which Ambrose goes to London with the “young lady of his choice,” detecting in the treatment a quality of “inebriate innocence.” Rose Macaulay in The Daily News said that while Ambrose’s mystical experiences are described “with a good deal of beauty,” Machen’s attempts at reporting his hero’s “contacts with actuality” are “distorted and unreal”; there was “a good deal of silliness” and “bad taste” in the book.
--It's believable, though, that Williams and Machen had a common acquaintance in Evelyn Underhill, author of Mysticism, etc. She dedicated her weird novel The Column of Dust (which I found unreadable) to Machen, while Williams edited a selection of her letters. Well, maybe Williams and Machen knew each other, but I'm not yet convinced that they did.
A correspondent who's a real Charles Williams expert wasn't able to confirm Williams knew Machen. At this point, that looks like a "likely" or even "inevitable" thing that might, in fact, not be the case, but stay tuned.
Interesting to think that Machen, about 20 years older than Williams, outlived him. It's known that Williams had read, or at least was aware of, Machen's "Great God Pan" (from an unpublished commonplace book of CW), but I don't think we have evidence that Williams had read Machen's Arthurian stories, namely "A Fragment of Life" (tangential), "The Great Return" (a fine wonder tale), and The Secret Glory, which I think has some interesting material but seems badly flawed. Machen could, of course, have read all seven of Williams's novels. I'll have to look to see if there's evidence that he had.
I mentioned Evelyn Underhill. Machen and Williams also both knew, or at least (in CW's case) knew of, A. E. Waite, author of The Hidden Church of the Holy Graal, a book to which Bray makes reference.
I should say -- the feel of Charles Williams's War in Heaven in mostly more like that of a John Buchan thriller than of a story by Arthur Machen, but there is sometimes a suggestion of the latter author; also, of G. K. Chesterton (I'm thinking of The Man Who Was Thursday).
I keep thinking of it as something that could be made into a black and white movie too.
As I continue Williams's War in Heaven, I see material I would not want to see filmed. It's unpleasant enough to read about in a few sentences.
Continuing with The Inklings and King Arthur, I've been reading the editor's introduction. She mentions one of the essays, the author's "examination of Charles Williams's gendered, Christian imperialism in the light of postcolonial critique." Whew! Got Theory, anyone?
Guite's IKA essay argues that Tolkien, Lewis, and Williams were not concocting "escape" literature to provide consolatory daydreams at the expense of their engagement with real human tasks, but rather provided a "prophetic critique of reductive scientism and the hermeneutics of suspicion." Lewis and Tolkien were combat veterans, unlike "the whole Bloomsbury set [that] claimed to respond to a trauma they had not seen at first hand or lioved through and to speak for people of whose experience they could have no real conception" (p. 494). Guite sees Williams as offering keen insight into the deformities of a modern economy.
I've begun Holly Ordway's "Medieval Arthurian Sources for the Inklings: An Overview," and she gets me on her side in the first sentences. "Not only did [Lewis and Tolkien] have deep roots in the [medieval Arthurian corpus], they could expect many, if not all, of their readers at the time to have at least a passing familiarity with it as well. However, today, when a throrough study of Old and Middle English texts -- or any study of them at all -- is no longer a standard part of the English literature curriculum in the U. K. or America, most readers lack the context that contemporary readers had for these works" (p. 61). There's been a real treason of the clerics in English departments in the past 50 years or so, and an English degree appears to me increasingly to be largely a swindle. Fortunately, texts have never been more readily available. You can educate yourself to a considerable extent, without bothering with addle-headed professors. Ordway's essay would be a good guide for someone who wants to get started as a rfeader of the Arthurian legendarium on his or her own. It is cheering to see how many of the classic works in her bibliography may be bought cheaply or, I suppose, read for free at archive.org or Project Gutenberg, etc.
Dr. Ordway makes the interesting claim, which I'm not competent to affirm or reject, that Charles Williams's focus on the Grail/Graal-element of the Arthurian legendarium "is rooted in the French sources, particularly the various parts of the Vulgate Cycle, but also the romances of Chrétien de Troyes" (p. 71) -- and, so, not rooted in the Latin historians or the Celtic wonder tale-tellers.
Williams's two volumes of Arthurian poetry have their champions. Others express respect for them, without making great claims for them; see poet Geoffrey Hill:
As long as I'm mentioning other poets and referring to Williams, here is an interesting piece by T. S. Eliot that focuses on Charles Williams's novels. It might well be read by anyone thinking of trying one of them: