Camelot Clearinghouse: About Arthur, Merlin &c. *AFTER* AD 1600

Extollager

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Here's a thread for discussion of works done more recently than the period (up through AD 1600) in the thread dedicated to the likes of Geoffrey of Monmouth, Marie de France, Chrétien de Troyes, Wolfram von Eschenbach, Robert de Boron, the Arthurian tales in the Mabinogion (there's a thread for that work), the Gawain Poet, Sir Thomas Malory, Edmund Spenser, &c.

Here, in future, may be found comments on works by Lord Tennyson, Arthur Machen, Charles Williams, C. S. Lewis,T. H. White, Mary Stewart, John Steinbeck, and less well-known folk. It will be up to Chronsfolk as to whether or not non-book items are discussed, e.g. art of the Pre-Raphaelites or Hal Foster's long-running Prince Valiant comic art series. It's up to others, but perhaps the works of Marion Zimmer Bradley could be ignored. At least, before posting on her writing, perhaps a prospective commenter could review the matter of the credible allegations made about her. Discussion of those allegations should be reserved for a different thread than this one. Go here, please:

 
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This week I've read (for the 11th time) C. S. Lewis's That Hideous Strength. I've seen more than one critic (e.g. Peter Goodrich in the scholarly anthology The Romance of Merlin) praise this third novel of the Cosmic Trilogy for Lewis's depiction of Merlin. Indeed, the whole assimilation of the Matter of Britain into Lewis's science fiction is a triumph of poetic imagination. I have never managed to read one of Terry Pratchett's books, but I wonder if Lewis's achievement is at the opposite end of a spectrum from his. My impression is that Pratchett takes materials of folklore, legend, and mythology and gives them all a contemporary humorous spin, deflating them, removing from them the aura of the numinous and exploiting the comic possibilities of incongruity by putting them through paces concocted by his own rather ordinary imagination. This might not be an accurate impression of Pratchett. I started one of his books (Carpe Jugulum) and could not persist with it. I suspect I would not care now for the de Camp and Pratt "Incomplete Enchanter" stories for the same reason. I think I read them in my teens largely because I got glimpses of myth through them, not so much for the humor -- if that's true I was probably not a very good reader of them, reading them for what they were not intended to do -- ? But, anyway, Lewis delightfully does the opposite, that is, he takes up the mundane, "buffered" public world we live in and refreshes it with myth -- also with, be it noted, very good descriptions of nature, making it "porous" again.*

It's a remarkably "countercultural" novel for 1945. The St. Anne's group is, or is becoming, a small oiko-economy. It's like something out of John Seymour's Guide to Self-Sufficiency (variations in title occur). Small is beautiful.

*For "buffered" and "porous" see here:

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Lewis's thought seems to have affinities with (and to have predated) that of Leopold Kohr --


But I haven't read this book.

Lewis favored what I take to be a loose confederation of numerous very small states; see his contribution to the symposium here:


That's close to what I think Kohr advocated.
 
Re: Pratchett. His books vary in quality and depth. He is not Lewis, and I am not sure that he is the best comparator.

If you want to try a Pratchett with a bit of bite then I would suggest Nightwatch.

Is John Seymour well known in the US? Still pretty influential for dreamers in the UK. He had his smallholding on the same hill in the Preselis that my better half comes from.
 
Hitmouse, I don't think Seymour is well known here in the States, and I'm not sure how I got on to him now. There seem to be plenty of sites here that have advice for people wanting to move into self-sufficient farms/homesteads. It seems that there was a degree of perhaps "underground" interest in this possibility in the UK decades ago. Is it reflected in sf by John Wyndham as well as Lewis, and others? In the UK, it was Lord Northbourne who coined the term "organic farming" as far back as 1940, I gather, which tends to go along with the ideal of small farms.
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My impression is that Pratchett takes materials of folklore, legend, and mythology and gives them all a contemporary humorous spin, deflating them, removing from them the aura of the numinous and exploiting the comic possibilities of incongruity by putting them through paces concocted by his own rather ordinary imagination. This might not be an accurate impression of Pratchett

Hmm. Pratchett was a clever and, I think, kindly and moral writer, who started off as largely a parodist but later wrote books that stand on their own. He was not a cynic, but he doesn't seem awed by very much and, for what it's worth, was very secular. Frankly, I think you would really dislike his work and I suggest you avoid it.

I don't remember the portrayal of Merlin in That Hideous Strength very well: he's mistaken for a tramp and speaks in Latin, IIRC, but I don't recall much else. There's the SF horror of the Institute, and the rather weird version of Christianity that Ransome represents, but I can't remember where Merlin fits into it, apart from being the one who lets the animals out and puts the curse of Babel on the various minions. Am I right in thinking that there are two versions of THS, one much shorter than the other?
 
Toby, Lewis himself abridged That Hideous Strength for the Avon books paperback that was published as The Tortured Planet (I don't know who devised the title). He says in it that he prefers the longer version but some readers might think the shorter an improvement. Myself, I could wish he had produced a third version, a longer one that would have followed up some on elements either with further material in the text of the story or (delectable thought) with Tolkienian-like appendices.

For example, what was Grace Ironwood's earlier story? I'll confess here that I have begun, and puttered with, a prequel to That Hideous Strength, which would have revealed the origins of the NICE in a secret Office of Coördinated Experiments, created shortly before, or during, the Second World War, and which pursued certain lines of research that would have been alarming to the British public but which was held to be justified by the desperate situation occurring, or liable to occur, thanks to Nazi Germany. Grace Ironwood was involved, persisted despite great self-reproach, perhaps eventually tried to blow the whistle, etc. Arthur and Camilla, the other young couple in THS, would be wartime teenagers, probably, at least in one youngster's case, an orphan, perhaps bother are orphans. The reader would be led into the story, however, by a character not invented by Lewis, a solo black marketeer making a precarious living selling foodstuffs in short supply during wartime rationing -- the story begins with him driving away in a hurry when he thinks someone is tipping off the police about the pork he has in the boot of his shabby car and that he needs to sell very soon before it spoils. The story (novella? short novel?) might end with the deliverance of some mentally handicapped people who were being used as test subjects by the OCE, and the earlier history of Lewis's St. Anne's household. I don't imagine anything I would write along these lines would be first-rate, but it might at least please some people as fan fiction.

But as for the "extended version" of Lewis's own novel that I would like him to have read -- well, you can see some of the other matters, along with Miss Ironwood, that intrigue me. The St. Anne's household fascinates me, notably its developing or realized self-sufficiency. I wonder about how much Lewis might have been interested in and informed about such things. He does not seem to me to be naïve about the topic. For example, he knows that pigs are the outstanding choice for large animals. He pictures every able-bodied person of the household, i.e. everyone except Ransom, as working the soil or doing household chores. I suspect he asked Alan Griffiths (later Dom Bede) about such things, which Griffiths knew about because he and two friends had undergone an "experiment in common life" some years before Lewis wrote the novel -- though they were not self-sufficient and so Lewis may well have learned more by reading about the topic. Lewis also knows that having a bit of money to get things started helps -- remember that Ransom inherited some money from a sister who died. But also, I suspect that semi-self-sufficiency was a living tradition into Lewis's lifetime, in English villages.

Lewis could have written "legends" of Bragdon Wood. The bits of pastiche prose in the exiting novel, by the way, are, for me, exquisite reading pleasures. Lewis was extremely good at that sort of thing, with his sensitivity to language and his superb memory. In one or two of his scholarly books, he deliberately wrote his translations -- of ancient sources used by later authors -- not in 20th-century English but in language contemporary to the author, to avoid making (say) Plato sound modern while Sir Thomas Browne (say) was quoted as he wrote. Something like that. Lewis and M. R. James were very good at that sort of thing.

The whole Logres vs. Britain thing is fascinating and was, I'm confident, something more than an ad hoc improvisation for a fantasy novel. For one thing, he wrote a little-known essay about France (in French) relating to the idea of a sort of national spirit.

Which reminds me of Tim Powers's Declare, with its unforgettable "angels of the nations" idea, seen specifically with regard to Russia, as I recall -- but a very much fallen "angel" there. (My bit of fanfic proposed above might have included a few allusions to Powers's novel.)

And so much more! It's Lewis's kitchen sink novel, as in "everything but the" -- Lewis loaded it with things of interest to him, but it doesn't seem like a hodgepodge but rather a poetic unity.

 
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What a difference between the St. Anne's household and, well, this sort of thing, where bureaucrats propose the destinies of people who never elected them, over their bottled water and laptops. How symbolic, they're not only not looking at hoi polloi, they're not even looking at one another.
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This should be good... Girouard’s The Return to Camelot: Chivalry and the English Gentleman.
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The Sword at Sunset by Rosemary Sutcliffe
The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro

Two books I acquired sometime ago.
 

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